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Episode
147

The Death of God's Banker

Apr 6, 2021
History
-
20
minutes
Crime
1980s
Italy
The Mafia
Business
The Catholic Church
London

On June the 18th, 1982, a man was found hanging from under a bridge in London.

His name was Roberto Calvi, and he was the boss of one of Italy's largest private banks, with strong links to the Vatican.

Here is the story about who he was, what he was doing, who might have killed him, and why we might never know the truth.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Death of God’s Banker.

[00:00:29] It's a fascinating story that links the Vatican City, the Mafia, a Masonic lodge, London, the most powerful figures in Italian business and finance, and the Pope.

[00:00:42] The story is one of suicide or murder, of corruption, of money laundering, and of one family’s hunt for the truth. 

[00:00:52] It is also, I should add, an ongoing one, the mystery has yet to be solved.

[00:00:58] So, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:02] Our story starts on the morning of June the 18th, 1982, in London.

[00:01:09] As you may know, the river Thames runs through the centre of London dividing north and south.

[00:01:17] A young postal clerk was on his way to work, and was walking across one of the bridges that stretch over the river, a bridge called Blackfriars bridge.

[00:01:29] London on an early June morning can be beautiful and crisp, the sun rising to the east, and a beautiful light shining over the city, reflecting off the river.

[00:01:41] But, that morning the postal clerk was to make a gruesome discovery.

[00:01:47] Hanging from under Blackfriars Bridge was the body of a man.

[00:01:53] He was dressed in a dark grey suit, a white waistcoat, and a blue striped shirt. 

[00:02:00] Around his neck hung a bright orange rope.

[00:02:05] The postal clerk called the police, who rushed to the scene and took down the body.

[00:02:12] As they lay him down, they found bricks in his pockets, weighing him down.

[00:02:18] In his wallet, they found the equivalent of $15,000 in three different currencies. 

[00:02:26] There was also an Italian passport with the name, Gian Roberto Calvini. 

[00:02:33] The dead man's face matched the face of the man in the passport, but the dead man’s name wasn’t Gian Roberto Calvini.

[00:02:42] The passport was a fake.

[00:02:45] Within a few days, his body was identified. 

[00:02:50] His name was Roberto Calvi.

[00:02:53] He was the ex-chairman of one of Italy’s largest private banks, and had disappeared from his apartment in Rome on June 10th, eight days before. 

[00:03:04] The British police ruled that his death was a suicide, that Calvi had killed himself. 

[00:03:13] But ever since the gruesome discovery, people have been trying to figure out what really happened, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his death was far from suicide.

[00:03:27] To understand why the police thought Roberto Calvi did kill himself, and why his family thought he didn’t, we need to take a little trip down memory lane.

[00:03:39] Roberto Calvi had joined a small private bank called Banco Ambrosiano shortly after the end of World War II, and he had worked his way up, becoming the boss of the entire organisation by 1975.

[00:03:56] He was known as a shrewd, trustworthy and clever banker, and cultivated strong relationships with the clients of the bank.

[00:04:07] When he joined the bank it was a small organisation that didn’t do anything one might consider risky, adventurous or dodgy

[00:04:18] But as Calvi rose through its ranks, he expanded the bank, opening offshore branches in places like Luxembourg, and the Caribbean, offshore banking centres not known for their transparency, not places where banks generally have branches if they are squeaky clean, if they are completely innocent.

[00:04:42] Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano had developed strong links with the Vatican, and Calvi was nicknamed God’s Banker, given the amount of trust placed in him by the Catholic Church.

[00:04:57] Initially, it wasn’t quite clear exactly what business Banco Ambrosiano was conducting. 

[00:05:05] Calvi was borrowing large amounts of money and then giving it out as loans to companies based in the Caribbean. 

[00:05:13] In order to distribute these loans, he was given letters directly from the Vatican, implying that the Vatican either owned these companies or supported them in some way.

[00:05:27] These letters came directly from a man called Paul Marcinkus.

[00:05:33] Marcinkus was a senior American priest, and was nicknamed The Pope’s Bodyguard.

[00:05:40] But most importantly for our story, he was also the head of the Vatican City’s own bank, something called Istituto per le opere di religione, The Institute for Religious Works, which manages the bank accounts of both the church itself, and its priests.

[00:06:00] Now, The Vatican Bank is still a very mysterious institution, and 40 years ago, when our story takes place, it was even more so.

[00:06:12] Because of the Vatican’s status as an independent self-governing city state, it didn’t have to show anyone what was going on at its bank, so there was no central authority that could say “hey, we’d like to look at your accounts”.

[00:06:28] It would also accept deposits in cash, so there was often no paper trail of where money had come from before it was deposited at the bank. 

[00:06:41] A client of the Vatican Bank could turn up with cash or other assets, and simply deposit them, with very minimal questions asked.

[00:06:51] There have been multiple investigations into the Vatican Bank, with it being accused of being a front, of being a cover, for laundering money for everyone from the Mafia to the Nazis. 

[00:07:06] And Marcinkus ran the show, he had been in charge of it since 1971.

[00:07:12] Marcinkus and Calvi cultivated a strong working relationship, and it’s believed that Calvi offered The Vatican access to investment opportunities through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:07:25] Unfortunately, Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano wasn’t immune from investigation, it was an Italian bank, and the Italian authorities had the right to look at its accounts.

[00:07:37] When they did, it turned out that Banco Ambrosiano was no longer a small, clean Italian private bank.

[00:07:45] In 1981 the Italian authorities found out that the bank had been engaging in illegal foreign currency transactions, that they had bought and sold $50 million worth of Italian lire without informing the Bank of Italy, which they were legally required to do.

[00:08:05] Calvi was thrown into prison, and while he was awaiting trial he tried to kill himself. 

[00:08:12] He insisted that he was innocent, and his wife said that he had actually made these transactions on behalf of the Vatican Bank.

[00:08:21] But these illegal currency transactions were really just the tip of the iceberg

[00:08:28] As the authorities looked more closely at the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, they found all sorts of irregular transactions, of money moving all over the world, being loaned out to unexpected places.

[00:08:44] Calvi had borrowed money denominated in dollars, and then sent it to other Banco Ambrosiano branches in places like the Caribbean. 

[00:08:54] After that, it was lent out to non-existent companies, companies that existed only as a letterbox, and were used to move money all around the world. 

[00:09:06] It was many of these companies that were guaranteed by letters of support from Paul Marcinkus, the head of The Vatican Bank.

[00:09:15] When the US dollar increased in value against the Italian Lira starting in 1980, and interest rates increased, the amount of interest that Calvi was required to pay increased dramatically.

[00:09:30] Calvi wasn’t able to pay back the interest on these loans. 

[00:09:35] The Italian currency was getting weaker and weaker, and the entire house of cards had started to collapse.

[00:09:45] These loans totalled between 1.2 and 1.4 billion dollars at the time, which is about $3.5 billion in today’s money.

[00:09:55] Calvi must have been desperate - the bank he had spent his career building was collapsing in front of his eyes.

[00:10:03] On June 5th 1982, Calvi wrote to Pope John Paul II appealing for help, telling him he was his last hope to stop the bank from imploding, and that the Vatican would also suffer if Banco Ambrosiano failed.

[00:10:20] Not only did The Vatican own a substantial part of Banco Ambrosiano, but Banco Ambrosiano was one of the original Catholic banks, and was a known favourite of The Vatican’s - it would certainly not reflect well on the Vatican if it were allowed to fail.

[00:10:39] But the pope didn’t respond to Calvi’s letter.

[00:10:43] Three days later, on June 8th, Roberto Calvi was stripped of his position as chairman of the bank, he was in effect sacked, when the directors on the board of the bank agreed to cooperate with the investigations of the Bank of Italy.

[00:11:00] Two days after that, on June 10th, his driver dropped him off at his apartment in central Rome at around 9pm. 

[00:11:10] When the driver returned the following morning, Calvi was nowhere to be found, and his apartment was empty.

[00:11:17] He was next seen hanging from a bridge in London, 8 days later.

[00:11:23] Now, one could of course say that Calvi had every reason to kill himself. 

[00:11:29] His bank was collapsing before his eyes, and he knew that there was very little that he could do to stop it.

[00:11:36] We now know that Calvi had spent most of his time in London on the phone, trying furiously to find ways to save it, but to no avail.

[00:11:46] Was it completely beyond the realms of possibility that this desperate man, who had lost billions of dollars of his clients’ money, would decide to end it all?

[00:11:59] Perhaps not, but Calvi’s family certainly never believed that he killed himself.

[00:12:05] Why would he have gone to London if he knew he wanted to kill himself? 

[00:12:09] And why did he telephone his family repeatedly telling them that it would all be ok?

[00:12:16] They also knew that he suffered terribly from vertigo - that he was really afraid of heights. If he really wanted to kill himself, surely climbing down from a bridge would have been the last way he would have done it?

[00:12:30] It took almost a decade, but 10 years later the Calvi family hired an investigative company to try and find out the truth, and some curious truths emerged.

[00:12:44] Firstly, they discovered that Calvi didn’t get under the bridge from the road, he must have been taken there by a boat, from underneath the bridge.

[00:12:54] They found this out as there was scaffolding under the bridge that had been recently painted yellow. They proved that if Calvi had climbed down to where he was found, he would have had to have gone over the scaffolding, and he would have got yellow paint on his shoes.

[00:13:15] When Calvi was found, there was no paint on his shoes.

[00:13:19] And the bricks that were in his pockets to weigh him down? 

[00:13:23] There was no dust from the bricks on Calvi’s fingers, so he hadn’t put them there.

[00:13:30] And when they dug up his body and examined it again, they saw that the marks on his neck weren’t just from the orange ropes, someone had strangled him.

[00:13:42] So, if Calvi didn’t kill himself, who killed him?

[00:13:47] As the investigations continued, more and more people emerged with possible motives to have killed Calvi.

[00:13:56] He had dirt on some of Italy’s most powerful people, and had actually travelled to London with a briefcase full of documents, a briefcase Calvi considered so precious that he reportedly slept with it while in London. 

[00:14:13] That briefcase was never found in London, but then magically it appeared on an Italian TV show in 1986, with a fake Nicaraguan passport, but funnily enough, no incriminating documents.

[00:14:29] There are several theories about who killed him.

[00:14:33] The most prominent of which is that he was murdered by the mafia. 

[00:14:37] It’s believed that he was laundering vast amounts of money for the mafia through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:14:45] When it was clear that the bank was going bankrupt and that their money had been lost, Calvi was killed for two reasons.

[00:14:53] Firstly, as revenge for losing their money.

[00:14:56] And secondly, as a preventative measure to stop him from talking. 

[00:15:01] Calvi was desperate, he knew far too much about the mafia’s business dealings, and he was murdered so that he would take these secrets to the grave with him.

[00:15:12] Indeed, in 2005 five people with links to the mafia were put on trial in Italy, accused of his murder. 

[00:15:23] Two years later, they were all cleared of the charges, with the judge saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.

[00:15:31] There was little doubt that he had been murdered, and the working theory was that the mafia had done it to shut him up, but there was not enough evidence to prove it.

[00:15:43] That the mafia did kill Calvi might be the correct answer, but it hasn’t stopped others from proposing alternative theories.

[00:15:52] The finger was pointed directly at the Vatican, and at the head of the bank and close associate of Calvi, Paul Marcinkus. 

[00:16:01] But he was never allowed to be brought in for questioning, because he was protected by the Vatican. He died in 2006, taking whatever knowledge he had of Calvi’s death with him.

[00:16:14] There’s also the theory that the Freemasons’ were involved.

[00:16:19] Calvi was a member of a right-wing Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, P2, whose members included some of the most powerful men in Italy, people at the top of the world of politics, finance, business and the police, including the ex Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

[00:16:41] The members of this lodge referred to themselves as ‘frati neri’, ‘Black brothers’, or ‘Black friars’.

[00:16:49] And can you remember the name of the bridge under which Calvi was found hanging? 

[00:16:55] It was Blackfriars bridge. 

[00:16:58] Calvi was staying in a hotel in Chelsea, in west London. 

[00:17:02] Blackfriars Bridge is in the east of the city, nowhere near Chelsea. 

[00:17:06] It made no sense for Calvi to have gone all the way to that bridge to kill himself, and so people have questioned whether the location of his murder was a sign that the crime was committed by the Masonic lodge, by Propaganda Due, by P2. 

[00:17:24] It has been hypothesised that P2 had used Banco Ambrosiano to transfer money to right-wing causes it supported around the world, such as financing dictators in Latin and South America.

[00:17:39] And Calvi was murdered so that he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where this money had gone, or more importantly, which members of P2 had ordered for this to be done.

[00:17:51] Although it is easy to get caught up in these kinds of conspiracy theories, the decision to leave Calvi under Blackfriars bridge, of all the bridges in London, does seem... unusual.

[00:18:04] The reality is that many of the people who were accused of either ordering or actually committing the murder are now dead themselves.

[00:18:14] Paul Marcinkus, the head of the Vatican Bank, died in 2006. 

[00:18:19] Two gangsters who were accused of actually killing him, Vaccari and Vincenzo Casillo, were murdered in Naples.

[00:18:27] Licio Gelli, the head of Propaganda Due, died in 2015.

[00:18:33] And the remaining mafiosi, the ones that are still alive, are in their late 80s and 90s, they have managed to keep quiet for the past 40 years, and they will no doubt take their secrets to the grave with them.

[00:18:48] And if that does happen, it seems like the mystery of who killed God’s Banker will never be solved.

[00:18:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Death of God’s Banker, and the mystery of what actually happened to Roberto Calvi.

[00:19:07] If you did enjoy it, then I think you will probably enjoy episode 63, which is on The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. 

[00:19:15] That is another fascinating story involving the disappearance of a young girl from right at the heart of the Vatican. 

[00:19:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:26] Especially for the Italian members among you, do you remember the case of Roberto Calvi? Who do you think 

[00:19:33] was behind his death?

[00:19:35] I would love to know. You can jump into the conversation over at community.leonardoenglish.com

[00:19:42] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:47] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Death of God’s Banker.

[00:00:29] It's a fascinating story that links the Vatican City, the Mafia, a Masonic lodge, London, the most powerful figures in Italian business and finance, and the Pope.

[00:00:42] The story is one of suicide or murder, of corruption, of money laundering, and of one family’s hunt for the truth. 

[00:00:52] It is also, I should add, an ongoing one, the mystery has yet to be solved.

[00:00:58] So, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:02] Our story starts on the morning of June the 18th, 1982, in London.

[00:01:09] As you may know, the river Thames runs through the centre of London dividing north and south.

[00:01:17] A young postal clerk was on his way to work, and was walking across one of the bridges that stretch over the river, a bridge called Blackfriars bridge.

[00:01:29] London on an early June morning can be beautiful and crisp, the sun rising to the east, and a beautiful light shining over the city, reflecting off the river.

[00:01:41] But, that morning the postal clerk was to make a gruesome discovery.

[00:01:47] Hanging from under Blackfriars Bridge was the body of a man.

[00:01:53] He was dressed in a dark grey suit, a white waistcoat, and a blue striped shirt. 

[00:02:00] Around his neck hung a bright orange rope.

[00:02:05] The postal clerk called the police, who rushed to the scene and took down the body.

[00:02:12] As they lay him down, they found bricks in his pockets, weighing him down.

[00:02:18] In his wallet, they found the equivalent of $15,000 in three different currencies. 

[00:02:26] There was also an Italian passport with the name, Gian Roberto Calvini. 

[00:02:33] The dead man's face matched the face of the man in the passport, but the dead man’s name wasn’t Gian Roberto Calvini.

[00:02:42] The passport was a fake.

[00:02:45] Within a few days, his body was identified. 

[00:02:50] His name was Roberto Calvi.

[00:02:53] He was the ex-chairman of one of Italy’s largest private banks, and had disappeared from his apartment in Rome on June 10th, eight days before. 

[00:03:04] The British police ruled that his death was a suicide, that Calvi had killed himself. 

[00:03:13] But ever since the gruesome discovery, people have been trying to figure out what really happened, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his death was far from suicide.

[00:03:27] To understand why the police thought Roberto Calvi did kill himself, and why his family thought he didn’t, we need to take a little trip down memory lane.

[00:03:39] Roberto Calvi had joined a small private bank called Banco Ambrosiano shortly after the end of World War II, and he had worked his way up, becoming the boss of the entire organisation by 1975.

[00:03:56] He was known as a shrewd, trustworthy and clever banker, and cultivated strong relationships with the clients of the bank.

[00:04:07] When he joined the bank it was a small organisation that didn’t do anything one might consider risky, adventurous or dodgy

[00:04:18] But as Calvi rose through its ranks, he expanded the bank, opening offshore branches in places like Luxembourg, and the Caribbean, offshore banking centres not known for their transparency, not places where banks generally have branches if they are squeaky clean, if they are completely innocent.

[00:04:42] Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano had developed strong links with the Vatican, and Calvi was nicknamed God’s Banker, given the amount of trust placed in him by the Catholic Church.

[00:04:57] Initially, it wasn’t quite clear exactly what business Banco Ambrosiano was conducting. 

[00:05:05] Calvi was borrowing large amounts of money and then giving it out as loans to companies based in the Caribbean. 

[00:05:13] In order to distribute these loans, he was given letters directly from the Vatican, implying that the Vatican either owned these companies or supported them in some way.

[00:05:27] These letters came directly from a man called Paul Marcinkus.

[00:05:33] Marcinkus was a senior American priest, and was nicknamed The Pope’s Bodyguard.

[00:05:40] But most importantly for our story, he was also the head of the Vatican City’s own bank, something called Istituto per le opere di religione, The Institute for Religious Works, which manages the bank accounts of both the church itself, and its priests.

[00:06:00] Now, The Vatican Bank is still a very mysterious institution, and 40 years ago, when our story takes place, it was even more so.

[00:06:12] Because of the Vatican’s status as an independent self-governing city state, it didn’t have to show anyone what was going on at its bank, so there was no central authority that could say “hey, we’d like to look at your accounts”.

[00:06:28] It would also accept deposits in cash, so there was often no paper trail of where money had come from before it was deposited at the bank. 

[00:06:41] A client of the Vatican Bank could turn up with cash or other assets, and simply deposit them, with very minimal questions asked.

[00:06:51] There have been multiple investigations into the Vatican Bank, with it being accused of being a front, of being a cover, for laundering money for everyone from the Mafia to the Nazis. 

[00:07:06] And Marcinkus ran the show, he had been in charge of it since 1971.

[00:07:12] Marcinkus and Calvi cultivated a strong working relationship, and it’s believed that Calvi offered The Vatican access to investment opportunities through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:07:25] Unfortunately, Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano wasn’t immune from investigation, it was an Italian bank, and the Italian authorities had the right to look at its accounts.

[00:07:37] When they did, it turned out that Banco Ambrosiano was no longer a small, clean Italian private bank.

[00:07:45] In 1981 the Italian authorities found out that the bank had been engaging in illegal foreign currency transactions, that they had bought and sold $50 million worth of Italian lire without informing the Bank of Italy, which they were legally required to do.

[00:08:05] Calvi was thrown into prison, and while he was awaiting trial he tried to kill himself. 

[00:08:12] He insisted that he was innocent, and his wife said that he had actually made these transactions on behalf of the Vatican Bank.

[00:08:21] But these illegal currency transactions were really just the tip of the iceberg

[00:08:28] As the authorities looked more closely at the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, they found all sorts of irregular transactions, of money moving all over the world, being loaned out to unexpected places.

[00:08:44] Calvi had borrowed money denominated in dollars, and then sent it to other Banco Ambrosiano branches in places like the Caribbean. 

[00:08:54] After that, it was lent out to non-existent companies, companies that existed only as a letterbox, and were used to move money all around the world. 

[00:09:06] It was many of these companies that were guaranteed by letters of support from Paul Marcinkus, the head of The Vatican Bank.

[00:09:15] When the US dollar increased in value against the Italian Lira starting in 1980, and interest rates increased, the amount of interest that Calvi was required to pay increased dramatically.

[00:09:30] Calvi wasn’t able to pay back the interest on these loans. 

[00:09:35] The Italian currency was getting weaker and weaker, and the entire house of cards had started to collapse.

[00:09:45] These loans totalled between 1.2 and 1.4 billion dollars at the time, which is about $3.5 billion in today’s money.

[00:09:55] Calvi must have been desperate - the bank he had spent his career building was collapsing in front of his eyes.

[00:10:03] On June 5th 1982, Calvi wrote to Pope John Paul II appealing for help, telling him he was his last hope to stop the bank from imploding, and that the Vatican would also suffer if Banco Ambrosiano failed.

[00:10:20] Not only did The Vatican own a substantial part of Banco Ambrosiano, but Banco Ambrosiano was one of the original Catholic banks, and was a known favourite of The Vatican’s - it would certainly not reflect well on the Vatican if it were allowed to fail.

[00:10:39] But the pope didn’t respond to Calvi’s letter.

[00:10:43] Three days later, on June 8th, Roberto Calvi was stripped of his position as chairman of the bank, he was in effect sacked, when the directors on the board of the bank agreed to cooperate with the investigations of the Bank of Italy.

[00:11:00] Two days after that, on June 10th, his driver dropped him off at his apartment in central Rome at around 9pm. 

[00:11:10] When the driver returned the following morning, Calvi was nowhere to be found, and his apartment was empty.

[00:11:17] He was next seen hanging from a bridge in London, 8 days later.

[00:11:23] Now, one could of course say that Calvi had every reason to kill himself. 

[00:11:29] His bank was collapsing before his eyes, and he knew that there was very little that he could do to stop it.

[00:11:36] We now know that Calvi had spent most of his time in London on the phone, trying furiously to find ways to save it, but to no avail.

[00:11:46] Was it completely beyond the realms of possibility that this desperate man, who had lost billions of dollars of his clients’ money, would decide to end it all?

[00:11:59] Perhaps not, but Calvi’s family certainly never believed that he killed himself.

[00:12:05] Why would he have gone to London if he knew he wanted to kill himself? 

[00:12:09] And why did he telephone his family repeatedly telling them that it would all be ok?

[00:12:16] They also knew that he suffered terribly from vertigo - that he was really afraid of heights. If he really wanted to kill himself, surely climbing down from a bridge would have been the last way he would have done it?

[00:12:30] It took almost a decade, but 10 years later the Calvi family hired an investigative company to try and find out the truth, and some curious truths emerged.

[00:12:44] Firstly, they discovered that Calvi didn’t get under the bridge from the road, he must have been taken there by a boat, from underneath the bridge.

[00:12:54] They found this out as there was scaffolding under the bridge that had been recently painted yellow. They proved that if Calvi had climbed down to where he was found, he would have had to have gone over the scaffolding, and he would have got yellow paint on his shoes.

[00:13:15] When Calvi was found, there was no paint on his shoes.

[00:13:19] And the bricks that were in his pockets to weigh him down? 

[00:13:23] There was no dust from the bricks on Calvi’s fingers, so he hadn’t put them there.

[00:13:30] And when they dug up his body and examined it again, they saw that the marks on his neck weren’t just from the orange ropes, someone had strangled him.

[00:13:42] So, if Calvi didn’t kill himself, who killed him?

[00:13:47] As the investigations continued, more and more people emerged with possible motives to have killed Calvi.

[00:13:56] He had dirt on some of Italy’s most powerful people, and had actually travelled to London with a briefcase full of documents, a briefcase Calvi considered so precious that he reportedly slept with it while in London. 

[00:14:13] That briefcase was never found in London, but then magically it appeared on an Italian TV show in 1986, with a fake Nicaraguan passport, but funnily enough, no incriminating documents.

[00:14:29] There are several theories about who killed him.

[00:14:33] The most prominent of which is that he was murdered by the mafia. 

[00:14:37] It’s believed that he was laundering vast amounts of money for the mafia through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:14:45] When it was clear that the bank was going bankrupt and that their money had been lost, Calvi was killed for two reasons.

[00:14:53] Firstly, as revenge for losing their money.

[00:14:56] And secondly, as a preventative measure to stop him from talking. 

[00:15:01] Calvi was desperate, he knew far too much about the mafia’s business dealings, and he was murdered so that he would take these secrets to the grave with him.

[00:15:12] Indeed, in 2005 five people with links to the mafia were put on trial in Italy, accused of his murder. 

[00:15:23] Two years later, they were all cleared of the charges, with the judge saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.

[00:15:31] There was little doubt that he had been murdered, and the working theory was that the mafia had done it to shut him up, but there was not enough evidence to prove it.

[00:15:43] That the mafia did kill Calvi might be the correct answer, but it hasn’t stopped others from proposing alternative theories.

[00:15:52] The finger was pointed directly at the Vatican, and at the head of the bank and close associate of Calvi, Paul Marcinkus. 

[00:16:01] But he was never allowed to be brought in for questioning, because he was protected by the Vatican. He died in 2006, taking whatever knowledge he had of Calvi’s death with him.

[00:16:14] There’s also the theory that the Freemasons’ were involved.

[00:16:19] Calvi was a member of a right-wing Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, P2, whose members included some of the most powerful men in Italy, people at the top of the world of politics, finance, business and the police, including the ex Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

[00:16:41] The members of this lodge referred to themselves as ‘frati neri’, ‘Black brothers’, or ‘Black friars’.

[00:16:49] And can you remember the name of the bridge under which Calvi was found hanging? 

[00:16:55] It was Blackfriars bridge. 

[00:16:58] Calvi was staying in a hotel in Chelsea, in west London. 

[00:17:02] Blackfriars Bridge is in the east of the city, nowhere near Chelsea. 

[00:17:06] It made no sense for Calvi to have gone all the way to that bridge to kill himself, and so people have questioned whether the location of his murder was a sign that the crime was committed by the Masonic lodge, by Propaganda Due, by P2. 

[00:17:24] It has been hypothesised that P2 had used Banco Ambrosiano to transfer money to right-wing causes it supported around the world, such as financing dictators in Latin and South America.

[00:17:39] And Calvi was murdered so that he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where this money had gone, or more importantly, which members of P2 had ordered for this to be done.

[00:17:51] Although it is easy to get caught up in these kinds of conspiracy theories, the decision to leave Calvi under Blackfriars bridge, of all the bridges in London, does seem... unusual.

[00:18:04] The reality is that many of the people who were accused of either ordering or actually committing the murder are now dead themselves.

[00:18:14] Paul Marcinkus, the head of the Vatican Bank, died in 2006. 

[00:18:19] Two gangsters who were accused of actually killing him, Vaccari and Vincenzo Casillo, were murdered in Naples.

[00:18:27] Licio Gelli, the head of Propaganda Due, died in 2015.

[00:18:33] And the remaining mafiosi, the ones that are still alive, are in their late 80s and 90s, they have managed to keep quiet for the past 40 years, and they will no doubt take their secrets to the grave with them.

[00:18:48] And if that does happen, it seems like the mystery of who killed God’s Banker will never be solved.

[00:18:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Death of God’s Banker, and the mystery of what actually happened to Roberto Calvi.

[00:19:07] If you did enjoy it, then I think you will probably enjoy episode 63, which is on The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. 

[00:19:15] That is another fascinating story involving the disappearance of a young girl from right at the heart of the Vatican. 

[00:19:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:26] Especially for the Italian members among you, do you remember the case of Roberto Calvi? Who do you think 

[00:19:33] was behind his death?

[00:19:35] I would love to know. You can jump into the conversation over at community.leonardoenglish.com

[00:19:42] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:47] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Death of God’s Banker.

[00:00:29] It's a fascinating story that links the Vatican City, the Mafia, a Masonic lodge, London, the most powerful figures in Italian business and finance, and the Pope.

[00:00:42] The story is one of suicide or murder, of corruption, of money laundering, and of one family’s hunt for the truth. 

[00:00:52] It is also, I should add, an ongoing one, the mystery has yet to be solved.

[00:00:58] So, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:02] Our story starts on the morning of June the 18th, 1982, in London.

[00:01:09] As you may know, the river Thames runs through the centre of London dividing north and south.

[00:01:17] A young postal clerk was on his way to work, and was walking across one of the bridges that stretch over the river, a bridge called Blackfriars bridge.

[00:01:29] London on an early June morning can be beautiful and crisp, the sun rising to the east, and a beautiful light shining over the city, reflecting off the river.

[00:01:41] But, that morning the postal clerk was to make a gruesome discovery.

[00:01:47] Hanging from under Blackfriars Bridge was the body of a man.

[00:01:53] He was dressed in a dark grey suit, a white waistcoat, and a blue striped shirt. 

[00:02:00] Around his neck hung a bright orange rope.

[00:02:05] The postal clerk called the police, who rushed to the scene and took down the body.

[00:02:12] As they lay him down, they found bricks in his pockets, weighing him down.

[00:02:18] In his wallet, they found the equivalent of $15,000 in three different currencies. 

[00:02:26] There was also an Italian passport with the name, Gian Roberto Calvini. 

[00:02:33] The dead man's face matched the face of the man in the passport, but the dead man’s name wasn’t Gian Roberto Calvini.

[00:02:42] The passport was a fake.

[00:02:45] Within a few days, his body was identified. 

[00:02:50] His name was Roberto Calvi.

[00:02:53] He was the ex-chairman of one of Italy’s largest private banks, and had disappeared from his apartment in Rome on June 10th, eight days before. 

[00:03:04] The British police ruled that his death was a suicide, that Calvi had killed himself. 

[00:03:13] But ever since the gruesome discovery, people have been trying to figure out what really happened, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his death was far from suicide.

[00:03:27] To understand why the police thought Roberto Calvi did kill himself, and why his family thought he didn’t, we need to take a little trip down memory lane.

[00:03:39] Roberto Calvi had joined a small private bank called Banco Ambrosiano shortly after the end of World War II, and he had worked his way up, becoming the boss of the entire organisation by 1975.

[00:03:56] He was known as a shrewd, trustworthy and clever banker, and cultivated strong relationships with the clients of the bank.

[00:04:07] When he joined the bank it was a small organisation that didn’t do anything one might consider risky, adventurous or dodgy

[00:04:18] But as Calvi rose through its ranks, he expanded the bank, opening offshore branches in places like Luxembourg, and the Caribbean, offshore banking centres not known for their transparency, not places where banks generally have branches if they are squeaky clean, if they are completely innocent.

[00:04:42] Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano had developed strong links with the Vatican, and Calvi was nicknamed God’s Banker, given the amount of trust placed in him by the Catholic Church.

[00:04:57] Initially, it wasn’t quite clear exactly what business Banco Ambrosiano was conducting. 

[00:05:05] Calvi was borrowing large amounts of money and then giving it out as loans to companies based in the Caribbean. 

[00:05:13] In order to distribute these loans, he was given letters directly from the Vatican, implying that the Vatican either owned these companies or supported them in some way.

[00:05:27] These letters came directly from a man called Paul Marcinkus.

[00:05:33] Marcinkus was a senior American priest, and was nicknamed The Pope’s Bodyguard.

[00:05:40] But most importantly for our story, he was also the head of the Vatican City’s own bank, something called Istituto per le opere di religione, The Institute for Religious Works, which manages the bank accounts of both the church itself, and its priests.

[00:06:00] Now, The Vatican Bank is still a very mysterious institution, and 40 years ago, when our story takes place, it was even more so.

[00:06:12] Because of the Vatican’s status as an independent self-governing city state, it didn’t have to show anyone what was going on at its bank, so there was no central authority that could say “hey, we’d like to look at your accounts”.

[00:06:28] It would also accept deposits in cash, so there was often no paper trail of where money had come from before it was deposited at the bank. 

[00:06:41] A client of the Vatican Bank could turn up with cash or other assets, and simply deposit them, with very minimal questions asked.

[00:06:51] There have been multiple investigations into the Vatican Bank, with it being accused of being a front, of being a cover, for laundering money for everyone from the Mafia to the Nazis. 

[00:07:06] And Marcinkus ran the show, he had been in charge of it since 1971.

[00:07:12] Marcinkus and Calvi cultivated a strong working relationship, and it’s believed that Calvi offered The Vatican access to investment opportunities through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:07:25] Unfortunately, Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano wasn’t immune from investigation, it was an Italian bank, and the Italian authorities had the right to look at its accounts.

[00:07:37] When they did, it turned out that Banco Ambrosiano was no longer a small, clean Italian private bank.

[00:07:45] In 1981 the Italian authorities found out that the bank had been engaging in illegal foreign currency transactions, that they had bought and sold $50 million worth of Italian lire without informing the Bank of Italy, which they were legally required to do.

[00:08:05] Calvi was thrown into prison, and while he was awaiting trial he tried to kill himself. 

[00:08:12] He insisted that he was innocent, and his wife said that he had actually made these transactions on behalf of the Vatican Bank.

[00:08:21] But these illegal currency transactions were really just the tip of the iceberg

[00:08:28] As the authorities looked more closely at the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, they found all sorts of irregular transactions, of money moving all over the world, being loaned out to unexpected places.

[00:08:44] Calvi had borrowed money denominated in dollars, and then sent it to other Banco Ambrosiano branches in places like the Caribbean. 

[00:08:54] After that, it was lent out to non-existent companies, companies that existed only as a letterbox, and were used to move money all around the world. 

[00:09:06] It was many of these companies that were guaranteed by letters of support from Paul Marcinkus, the head of The Vatican Bank.

[00:09:15] When the US dollar increased in value against the Italian Lira starting in 1980, and interest rates increased, the amount of interest that Calvi was required to pay increased dramatically.

[00:09:30] Calvi wasn’t able to pay back the interest on these loans. 

[00:09:35] The Italian currency was getting weaker and weaker, and the entire house of cards had started to collapse.

[00:09:45] These loans totalled between 1.2 and 1.4 billion dollars at the time, which is about $3.5 billion in today’s money.

[00:09:55] Calvi must have been desperate - the bank he had spent his career building was collapsing in front of his eyes.

[00:10:03] On June 5th 1982, Calvi wrote to Pope John Paul II appealing for help, telling him he was his last hope to stop the bank from imploding, and that the Vatican would also suffer if Banco Ambrosiano failed.

[00:10:20] Not only did The Vatican own a substantial part of Banco Ambrosiano, but Banco Ambrosiano was one of the original Catholic banks, and was a known favourite of The Vatican’s - it would certainly not reflect well on the Vatican if it were allowed to fail.

[00:10:39] But the pope didn’t respond to Calvi’s letter.

[00:10:43] Three days later, on June 8th, Roberto Calvi was stripped of his position as chairman of the bank, he was in effect sacked, when the directors on the board of the bank agreed to cooperate with the investigations of the Bank of Italy.

[00:11:00] Two days after that, on June 10th, his driver dropped him off at his apartment in central Rome at around 9pm. 

[00:11:10] When the driver returned the following morning, Calvi was nowhere to be found, and his apartment was empty.

[00:11:17] He was next seen hanging from a bridge in London, 8 days later.

[00:11:23] Now, one could of course say that Calvi had every reason to kill himself. 

[00:11:29] His bank was collapsing before his eyes, and he knew that there was very little that he could do to stop it.

[00:11:36] We now know that Calvi had spent most of his time in London on the phone, trying furiously to find ways to save it, but to no avail.

[00:11:46] Was it completely beyond the realms of possibility that this desperate man, who had lost billions of dollars of his clients’ money, would decide to end it all?

[00:11:59] Perhaps not, but Calvi’s family certainly never believed that he killed himself.

[00:12:05] Why would he have gone to London if he knew he wanted to kill himself? 

[00:12:09] And why did he telephone his family repeatedly telling them that it would all be ok?

[00:12:16] They also knew that he suffered terribly from vertigo - that he was really afraid of heights. If he really wanted to kill himself, surely climbing down from a bridge would have been the last way he would have done it?

[00:12:30] It took almost a decade, but 10 years later the Calvi family hired an investigative company to try and find out the truth, and some curious truths emerged.

[00:12:44] Firstly, they discovered that Calvi didn’t get under the bridge from the road, he must have been taken there by a boat, from underneath the bridge.

[00:12:54] They found this out as there was scaffolding under the bridge that had been recently painted yellow. They proved that if Calvi had climbed down to where he was found, he would have had to have gone over the scaffolding, and he would have got yellow paint on his shoes.

[00:13:15] When Calvi was found, there was no paint on his shoes.

[00:13:19] And the bricks that were in his pockets to weigh him down? 

[00:13:23] There was no dust from the bricks on Calvi’s fingers, so he hadn’t put them there.

[00:13:30] And when they dug up his body and examined it again, they saw that the marks on his neck weren’t just from the orange ropes, someone had strangled him.

[00:13:42] So, if Calvi didn’t kill himself, who killed him?

[00:13:47] As the investigations continued, more and more people emerged with possible motives to have killed Calvi.

[00:13:56] He had dirt on some of Italy’s most powerful people, and had actually travelled to London with a briefcase full of documents, a briefcase Calvi considered so precious that he reportedly slept with it while in London. 

[00:14:13] That briefcase was never found in London, but then magically it appeared on an Italian TV show in 1986, with a fake Nicaraguan passport, but funnily enough, no incriminating documents.

[00:14:29] There are several theories about who killed him.

[00:14:33] The most prominent of which is that he was murdered by the mafia. 

[00:14:37] It’s believed that he was laundering vast amounts of money for the mafia through Banco Ambrosiano.

[00:14:45] When it was clear that the bank was going bankrupt and that their money had been lost, Calvi was killed for two reasons.

[00:14:53] Firstly, as revenge for losing their money.

[00:14:56] And secondly, as a preventative measure to stop him from talking. 

[00:15:01] Calvi was desperate, he knew far too much about the mafia’s business dealings, and he was murdered so that he would take these secrets to the grave with him.

[00:15:12] Indeed, in 2005 five people with links to the mafia were put on trial in Italy, accused of his murder. 

[00:15:23] Two years later, they were all cleared of the charges, with the judge saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.

[00:15:31] There was little doubt that he had been murdered, and the working theory was that the mafia had done it to shut him up, but there was not enough evidence to prove it.

[00:15:43] That the mafia did kill Calvi might be the correct answer, but it hasn’t stopped others from proposing alternative theories.

[00:15:52] The finger was pointed directly at the Vatican, and at the head of the bank and close associate of Calvi, Paul Marcinkus. 

[00:16:01] But he was never allowed to be brought in for questioning, because he was protected by the Vatican. He died in 2006, taking whatever knowledge he had of Calvi’s death with him.

[00:16:14] There’s also the theory that the Freemasons’ were involved.

[00:16:19] Calvi was a member of a right-wing Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, P2, whose members included some of the most powerful men in Italy, people at the top of the world of politics, finance, business and the police, including the ex Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

[00:16:41] The members of this lodge referred to themselves as ‘frati neri’, ‘Black brothers’, or ‘Black friars’.

[00:16:49] And can you remember the name of the bridge under which Calvi was found hanging? 

[00:16:55] It was Blackfriars bridge. 

[00:16:58] Calvi was staying in a hotel in Chelsea, in west London. 

[00:17:02] Blackfriars Bridge is in the east of the city, nowhere near Chelsea. 

[00:17:06] It made no sense for Calvi to have gone all the way to that bridge to kill himself, and so people have questioned whether the location of his murder was a sign that the crime was committed by the Masonic lodge, by Propaganda Due, by P2. 

[00:17:24] It has been hypothesised that P2 had used Banco Ambrosiano to transfer money to right-wing causes it supported around the world, such as financing dictators in Latin and South America.

[00:17:39] And Calvi was murdered so that he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone where this money had gone, or more importantly, which members of P2 had ordered for this to be done.

[00:17:51] Although it is easy to get caught up in these kinds of conspiracy theories, the decision to leave Calvi under Blackfriars bridge, of all the bridges in London, does seem... unusual.

[00:18:04] The reality is that many of the people who were accused of either ordering or actually committing the murder are now dead themselves.

[00:18:14] Paul Marcinkus, the head of the Vatican Bank, died in 2006. 

[00:18:19] Two gangsters who were accused of actually killing him, Vaccari and Vincenzo Casillo, were murdered in Naples.

[00:18:27] Licio Gelli, the head of Propaganda Due, died in 2015.

[00:18:33] And the remaining mafiosi, the ones that are still alive, are in their late 80s and 90s, they have managed to keep quiet for the past 40 years, and they will no doubt take their secrets to the grave with them.

[00:18:48] And if that does happen, it seems like the mystery of who killed God’s Banker will never be solved.

[00:18:56] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Death of God’s Banker, and the mystery of what actually happened to Roberto Calvi.

[00:19:07] If you did enjoy it, then I think you will probably enjoy episode 63, which is on The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. 

[00:19:15] That is another fascinating story involving the disappearance of a young girl from right at the heart of the Vatican. 

[00:19:23] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:26] Especially for the Italian members among you, do you remember the case of Roberto Calvi? Who do you think 

[00:19:33] was behind his death?

[00:19:35] I would love to know. You can jump into the conversation over at community.leonardoenglish.com

[00:19:42] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:47] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]