All acquitted in ‘God’s banker’ murder trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

The so-called "God's banker" murder trial ended in acquittals Wednesday, leaving Italy with one of its most enduring mysteries: the 1982 death of Italian financier Roberto Calvi, found hanging from London's Blackfriars Bridge with bricks stuffed in his pockets.

At the end of a second day of deliberations, a jury ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict four defendants, including a top Mafia crime figure, and that there was absolutely no proof to convict a fifth.

Calvi was nicknamed "God's banker" because of his close ties with the Vatican.

His macabre death came amid the collapse of his bank, Banco Ambrosiano, in one of Italy's largest fraud cases.

Banco Ambrosiano collapsed following the disappearance of US$1.3 billion in loans the bank had made to several dummy companies in Latin America. The Vatican provided letters of credit for the loans.

While denying any wrongdoing, the Vatican bank agreed to pay US$250 million to Ambrosiano's creditors.

London investigators first ruled that Calvi committed suicide, but his family pressed for further investigation and eventually murder charges against the five defendants.

The prosecution had sought life terms for four of the defendants and asked that a fifth be acquitted.

One defendant, Giuseppe "Pippo" Calo, already serving a life sentence on convictions 20 years ago on Mafia charges, followed the verdict by video camera from a prison in central Italy.

Prosecutors had alleged that Calo had ordered that Calvi be murdered so that he would not talk to investigators, and that Calvi was laundering money for mobsters who believed the banker had taken some of the money for himself.

The Rome-based Calo was known as "the cashier" for his alleged role as a money launderer for the Sicilian Mafia.

Among the trial witnesses were Mafia turncoats.

The other defendants chose not to attend the hearing in the largely empty high-security courtroom, as is their right under Italian law.

New forensic tests in 2003 on Calvi's shoes found no traces of paint or metal from the scaffolding under the bridge, indicating he did not scramble across it but was killed elsewhere and his body later hung from the bridge.

The other defendants were Calvi's driver and bodyguard, Silvano Vittor; businessman Flavio Carboni; another businessman, Ernesto Diotallevi; and Carboni's Austrian former girlfriend, Manuela Kleinszig.

Before the jury began deliberating, prosecutors asked for Kleinszig's acquittal.

None of the defendants in the trial was ever accused of physically killing Calvi.

Judge Mario D'Andria at the start of the trial in October 2005 urged the court to keep in mind that the trial involved facts from nearly a quarter-century ago.

"Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for justice," said Renato Borzone, a lawyer for Carboni. Suspicions had swirled around his client since shortly after Calvi's body was found.

Borzone asked reporters: rhetorically: "Why is a good mystery preferred to searching for the truth" in Italy?

Calvi's widow is dead, and a son, Carlo, who lives in Canada, was not immediately informed about the verdict, said Dario Piccioni, a lawyer for the family.

In Italy, prosecutors can appeal acquittals, and Piccioni, while looking downcast, held out some hope for a fresh trial. He noted that the jury had ruled that that the defendants hadn't committed "the deed."

Since the "deed" referred to murder, it appeared that the jury believed the banker was indeed slain, Piccioni said. Under Italian law, a jury could have also issued acquittals noting that no crime had been committed.

It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would pursue the case.