On March 21, 1979, journalist Mino Pecorelli was shot and killed in an ambush in Rome.
Pecorelli was responsible for publishing confidential documents involving banker Michele Sindona, along with documents on the Christian Democracy (DC) under Giulio Andreotti, and a list of 496 currency exporters, all clients of Sindona’s Finabank in Geneva.
A few months later, on July 11, lawyer Giorgio Ambrosoli was assassinated by American gunman William Aricò, under the instruction of Sindona.
At the time of his death, Ambrosoli was undertaking an investigation into the actions of the corrupt banker, after having been commissioned as liquidator of Sindona’s banks.
Not even 48 hours had passed since the murder of Ambrosoli, when the Red Brigades assassinated commander of the Prisoner Transportation Services of Piazzale Clodio, Antonio Varisco, who was familiar with Pecorelli.
The deaths continued and on July 21, superintendent and head of the Flying Squad of Palermo, Boris Giuliano was murdered.
Giuliano was working with Ambrosoli to unravel the mafia web which concealed the affairs of Sindona.
Ambrosoli was alone, with his few but faithful collaborators.
In the lead up to his death, Ambrosoli was inundated with anonymous threats over the telephone, and opposed by the strong powers of the Palazzo.
The only body in support of the lawyer was Paolo Baffi’s Banca d’Italia.
The decision to support Ambrosoli came at a high cost to the Governor, who was forced to resign shortly after.
In 1974 Sindona’s Franklin Bank had collapsed due to mismanagement and fraud, concerning losses in foreign currency speculation.
The downfall of Franklin Bank triggered a disastrous chain effect which brought down Sindona’s entire empire.
In the wake of this event, Sindona threatened: “La vendetta è una piatto che si serve freddo” (Revenge is a dish best served cold).
Almost five years from his defeat, Sindona was in fact avenged.
Sindona’s sworn enemy who had dared to try and oust him, Ambrosoli, was gone.
But Sindona was not prepared to receive punishment for Ambrosoli’s murder.
While under indictment in the US, Sindona plotted a fake kidnapping.
On August 2, 1979 the banker suddenly disappeared from the US, with a fake passport under the name Joseph Bonamico, provided by Cosa Nostra (the American Mafia).
Over his two and a half months “in hiding”, Sindona went over and above to try and redeem himself and rescue his banks, resorting to blackmail and threats in a terrible tangle between mafia, politics and finance.
During the fake kidnapping, Sindona posed in a photo with a sign hanging around his neck which said: ““Il giusto processo lo faremo noi” (The fair trial will be done by us).
The photo was sent to the banker’s lawyers in the US.
Word began to circulate that the banker had been kidnapped by an elusive group called the “Gruppo eversivo per una giustizia migliore” (Proletarian Committee of Subversion for Better Justice).
Sindona reappeared on October 16, with a gunshot wound to his leg.
The truth was discovered several years later that the fake kidnapping had been operated by the Sicilian-American mafia.
In the US, Sindona was associated with the Gambino family, one of the five most prominent families in Cosa Nostra.
Upon arriving in Palermo, Sindona was assisted by local gangs in his hunt for several documents, including the famous “tabulato dei 500, a list of 500 names of Italian figures who illegally export capital abroad.
To make the kidnapping credible, Sindona asked his private doctor and Italian-American Mason, Joseph Miceli Crimi an odd favour.
After being placed under a local anesthesia, Sindona was willingly shot at point-blank to his left leg.
The staging failed. As fate would have it, an anonymous phone call warned the FBI, and ex-friends come enemies did the rest, revealing everything from plots to revenge acts.
Sindona was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment by US judges.
The banker did everything to avoid extradition in Italy, but was unsuccessful.
Sindona was surrounded by burnt bridges.
At 8am on March 20, 1986, Sindona was served breakfast in the maximum security jail in Voghera, Lombardy.
Having been sentenced to life in prison two days earlier for the murder of Ambrosoli, Sindona was isolated by reinforced doors, controlled by security cameras, and watched over by 15 guards in continual rotation.
Like every other morning, Sindona received a coffee and milk mixture, which was served in a sterilised thermos and locked in a metal container.
As Sindona held the coffee to his lips, the officers closed the door and continued to watch him from the peephole.
They witnessed the former banker first stagger, then collapse to the floor screaming: “Mi hanno avvelenato…” (They have poisoned me…).
The coffee was spiked with cyanide.
Sindona died after suffering in agony for 54 hours.
The magistrates who analysed the case declared Sindona’s death: “Un suicidio attraverso la simulazione di un omicidio” (A suicide through the simulation of a murder).
However, given the strange circumstances, the death of Sindona remains one of Italy’s great mysteries.