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Four go on trial for murder of God's banker

g and compass

Guardian Unlimited

Four go on trial for murder of God's banker

John Hooper and Philip Willan in Rome

Wednesday March 17, 2004

The Guardian

More than 20 years after the death of the banker Roberto Calvi was dismissed as suicide, four people, including a jailed Mafia boss, went on trial yesterday in Rome, charged with his murder.

The case of the man known as "God's banker" remains one the most extraordinary of recent decades - a whodunnit involving the Vatican, Cosa Nostra, rogue freemasons, financiers and politicians.

Only one of the four defendants, Flavio Carboni, was in court to hear the charges. The Sardinian businessman told reporters: "I know as much about Calvi's murder as I do about the killing of Jesus Christ."

Two other people who were with the doomed banker on his final journey, Mr Carboni's then girlfriend, Manuela Kleinszig, and a Rome underworld boss, Ernesto Diotallevi, are also charged with murder.

The convicted Mafia boss, Pippo Calo, followed proceedings over a video link to his prison. According to documents leaked last year, the prosecution will seek to prove that he ordered Calvi murdered, for bungling the laundering of Cosa Nostra's funds and to stop him blackmailing powerful former associates in the Vatican and Italian society.

Two British women are expected to give evidence. One, Odette Jones (nee Morris), 43, from west London, was arrested last year on suspicion of perjury and conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Ms Morris, who is understood to be a relative of Mr Carboni, was questioned about the claim that she provided him with a false alibi. The other was the girlfriend of an Italian antiques dealer who died three months after Calvi. He is thought to have been murdered for threatening to name the banker's killers.

Mr Calvi was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, which was about to collapse with debts of 800m when he died. Some of the losses were the result of reckless offshore investments in association with the Vatican's bank, the Institute for the Works of Religion.

At the same time, Mr Calvi drew assistance from the maverick P2 masonic lodge. He was found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London in June 1982. Bricks were found stuffed into his pockets and down the front of his trousers - an apparently symbolic detail that prompted speculation of a masonic link.

Eleven boxes and seven folders stuffed with new evidence were submitted to the court shortly before the start of the trial. A source close to the prosecution said it showed Mr Calvi's involvement in the laundering of treasury bonds stolen by the Mafia in Turin in 1982. The bonds had been passed to Banco Ambrosiano's chairman by Mr Carboni.

The source added that Silvano Vittor, a Trieste-based smuggler who helped organise Mr Calvi's flight to London in the days leading up to Banco Ambrosiano's collapse, had admitted lying to investigators in the past. Mr Vittor now said it was Mr Carboni's decision the group should travel to London rather than Zurich, where Mr Calvi wanted to go.

Mr Vittor was said to have told prosecutors that on the evening Mr Calvi disappeared, the banker left the Chelsea flat in which he was staying along with Mr Carboni. Mr Carboni has denied seeing him that night.

Yesterday's opening session heard testimony from forensic specialists who have been looking for DNA samples on a rubber finger-protector that was found in Mr Carboni's luggage in 1982. Prosecutors believe the sheath was used by Mr Calvi to protect a wound on his index finger and commissioned the scientists to attempt to match it with DNA samples from his body.

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