The duplex apartment overlooking the Trevi Fountain in Rome, where I spent a year in the 1990s, belonged – I say this without so much as a droplet of irony – to a very kind man by the name of Ernesto Diotallevi. It was only some months after I had terminated my tenancy that I discovered, quite by chance, that Ernesto was rather a controversial figure, having toiled for many years as accountant of the Banda della Magliana (“Italian criminal organization based in Rome, particularly active throughout the late 1970s until the early 1990s,” according to Wikipedia). Still later, it transpired that my landlord was to stand trial for his part in the mafia execution of Roberto Calvi (“Italian banker dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ by the press because of his close association with the Holy See,” according to Wikipedia), who had been found hanged by the neck under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
I say “hanged,” though, at the time, despite the curious fact that Calvi’s pockets were stuffed with bricks, foul play was vigorously disputed (“his death in London,” according to Wikipedia, was only “ruled a murder after two coroner’s inquests”). An initial inquest established the cause of death as suicide. At the second inquest, in July 1983, the coroner recorded an “open verdict,” meaning the cause of death was unclear. It was not until 2002, following an exhumation of the body, that independent forensic analysis confirmed Calvi had been murdered.
The coroner’s court in Windsor returned an open verdict last week in the death of my friend Boris Berezovsky. This despite the testimony of an expert witness from Germany, Bernd Brinkmann, editor of the International Journal of Legal Medicine and founder of the Institute of Forensic Genetics, who declared that the victim had been strangled. “He said the strangulation marks around the neck were inconsistent with suspension,” reports the Daily Mail, “as they were too horizontal,” while “the purple face of Mr. Berezovsky was something he had ‘never seen before’ in a suicide by hanging.”
Why do I believe Professor Brinkmann? Because he is the same Professor Brinkmann who proved conclusively and beyond reasonable doubt that Calvi’s death was no suicide, which precipitated the new investigation and the trial in Rome, in 2005, of the five men charged with his murder (“Giuseppe Calò, Flavio Carboni, Manuela Kleinszig, Ernesto Diotallevi, and Calvi’s former driver and bodyguard Silvano Vittor,” according to Wikipedia). After having ruled that Calvi had indeed been murdered, the Italian court, however, failed to find sufficient evidence to convict any of the defendants, famously leading the public prosecutor to exclaim that “Calvi has been murdered a second time.”
Kind Ernesto is now in prison for various mafia misdemeanours unrelated to the Calvi assassination, my friend Boris is dead, and Professor Brinkmann, who is now 74, is right on the money once again. Not that anyone cares, of course. In twenty years’ time, we will read all about it in Wikipedia.