The discovery of the body of Roberto Calvi dangling from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge by a passer-by on the morning of 18 June 1982 had all the hallmarks of a Hollywood thriller.
Nicknamed ‘God’s banker’, Calvi was the chairman of Italian bank Banco Ambrosiano, in which the Vatican bank was a major shareholder. But the bank had been engaged in some very unholy activities, and by 1982, it was on the verge of collapse. The bank was £800m in the red, and owed money to the Sicilian mafia among others.
Calvi was “a brilliant financier”, The Independent wrote in 2005. “And though shy and socially gauche, he combined a lightening accountant’s brain with recklessness in a very Italian fashion”.
It was while in custody for illegal foreign currency dealings that Calvi tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists and taking an overdose. But he lived to be released on appeal, and on 11 June, a week before his death, he fled to London, taking with him a briefcase stuffed with incriminating documents.
Clearly not wanting to be found, he shaved off his moustache and checked into a nondescript £40-a-night hotel in Chelsea. Meanwhile, back in Italy, his secretary threw herself from a fourth-floor window. In her suicide note, she blamed Calvi for the bank’s demise, and Calvi was relieved of his duties as chairman.
The next day, Roberto Calvi was found dead. Bricks from a nearby building site had been stuffed into his clothes, but apart from that, nothing else suggested anything other than suicide. He still wore his luxury Patek Philippe watch and was carrying around £10,000 in various currencies.
The first London inquest into his death returned a verdict of suicide. The second returned an open verdict, raising a number of eyebrows back in Italy. Calvi’s widow and children hired a private investigator, whose findings suggested a Mafia murder.
This conclusion appeared to be confirmed on the 30th anniversary of Calvi’s death in 2012, when a suspect, Francesco ‘Frankie the Strangler’ Di Carlo, although denying his involvement, claimed he had been contacted to make ‘the hit’. The case continues.