Authors: Philip Willan
Another fascinating hypothesis, which does tie British intelligence to Calvi’s murder, emerges from a written source, albeit the modern world’s unreliable source by antonomasia: a document posted on the internet. The document is a letter ostensibly written by the Canadian gun designer Dr Gerald Bull to Peter Harris, at the London address of a company called Merrion Corporation, and dated 12 December 1989. It was originally posted on the website of an organization called VOMIT – Victims of Masonic Ill Treatment, by an anti-masonic campaigner living in Buckinghamshire by the name of JM Todd. There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of it, but people who knew Bull and his activities have corroborated some of its contents and it has become increasingly difficult to find on the Web.
The letter begins by discussing the clandestine politics of the arms business before moving on to make some startling claims about Roberto Calvi’s death. Bull opens by discussing the possibility of deploying the Merrion SW System with 155mm artillery and the prospects for getting an export licence for sale of the combined system to China. ‘Your anxiety with regard to the manoeuvres of the Board of Trade were well expressed,’ he continued. ‘I can confirm that [company X] is one of these shell companies which they set up to finance these projects in the Middle East. [Company Y] is being used for exactly the same purpose.’ The latter of the named companies received a £23,000 commission from Gerald James’s company Astra in December 1990, while the former was handed £75,000 between 1989 and 1990. Bull observed that UK companies had been used as proxies by US arms companies to get round an embargo on weapons exports to particular destinations. ‘All the loose ends are now being tied up. Those proxy companies set up to fuel the conflict between Iran and Iraq have served their purpose and are being put into receivership.’
Bull said he had complained to the Foreign Office after a visit from two named individuals. ‘They told me that an accident was “imminent” if I continued to cause trouble by my financial investigation of SRC/PRB [Poudreries Réunies de Belgique].’ Bull accused several leading Tory politicians of having creamed off commissions on arms contracts, salting the money away in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. ‘So far the Tory party alone has been enriched by £20 million, following the tradition established by Reginald Maudling.’ Bull added that he had identified the recipients of some of the largest transfers with the help of a friend in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington. ‘The lesson is that nothing financial is really secret, because the bank somewhere holds the information identifying the account holder, or their representative. Clearly US Intelligence has cameras recording every visit by customers of the main banks in places such as Switzerland
where these payoffs take place,’ he commented. ‘There is in effect an established method whereby the Foreign Office is raising money for its active participation in foreign politics. The money cannot be declared to any of the committees which oversee routine expenditure, since it is being used to subvert foreign governments, supposedly thereby protecting our national interest.’ Bull explained that the system involved the exchange of arms for cheap oil and minerals from developing countries. ‘They are also persuaded to buy from us defence equipment that they don’t really need, which prevents them developing their industrial infrastructure and competing with us industrially.’
Bull pointed out that those in power understood the real position, while ‘noisy politicians and the press are too stupid to make it worthwhile providing them with an explanation’. Bull’s lesson closely resembles the experience of Astra chairman Gerald James, whose company is mentioned as one of those facing imminent ruin. Three named individuals, Bull claimed, had been working with company accountants ‘to extract money in the form of commissions paid to companies set up solely with this in mind.’ His investigation of these matters had resulted in his receiving a number of threats, including the information that he was considered an ‘unviable proposition’ by ‘the spearhead of our political establishment’. Three months later Bull would be shot dead in Brussels.
It is in the context of the threats against his own life that Bull moves on to discuss the death of Roberto Calvi: ‘My position is at present an invidious one. [Stephan] Kock described how Roberto Calvi was persuaded to fly to Gatwick by [a named individual]. I suppose this example was designed to emphasize the dangers I might face. Apparently Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano was being used by Julius [Julian] Faux to raise money by a scheme which resembles in every respect that in which PRB and SRC are now embroiled. [The named individual] was operating the finance company in Brighton that
Faux set up to extract money from Cisalpine Overseas Bank in Nassau. Calvi was murdered while he was in London. He travelled there by train from Brighton, having told Faux he would release to the press details of how Ambrosiano, Cisalpine and BCCI had inadvertently funded the Security Service.’
A visit by Calvi to Brighton has never been mentioned before and is incompatible with all existing accounts to date of his movements while in Britain. The names mentioned by Bull, however, appear to correspond to real people who were active in the fields that he describes. Significantly, the letter repeats the recurring theme that Calvi was murdered to prevent him from revealing the sensitive information in his possession. Going public with the details of how the Ambrosiano and BCCI had ‘inadvertently funded the Security Service’ would have been a deeply unwelcome and potentially dangerous initiative.
‘The Bull letter is very significant,’ said Gerald James, after I drew it to his attention. ‘The sequence of events is spot on, and the style is Bull’s.’
John Drewe, who claims to have known Bull and to have worked with several of the people mentioned in the letter, also corroborated its authenticity. ‘It’s 100 per cent. Bull wrote letter after letter saying he’d been threatened by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] here,’ he told me. Another of Bull’s letters, addressed to Philippe Glibert, a colleague at his Space Research Corporation, and dated 31 October 1989, was partially published by James in his memoir
In The Public Interest.
In it Bull wrote: ‘I addressed a blunt memorandum to the Foreign Office on the whole matter. Through publicity, they were making me a target of terrorist groups. I was advised in a letter of an imminent “accident”.’
Drewe said he didn’t believe Bull was killed by Mossad but by agents of the British government. The Supergun, which Bull had been designing for Saddam Hussein, was for pointing at Iran, not Israel. ‘Bull was working for the Israelis,’ he said.
Both James and Drewe said the purported recipient of the first of these letters, Peter Harris, worked in a security capacity for the South African embassy in London. ‘Peter Harris was a partner of mine. He was employed by the South African embassy and Boss [the South African intelligence service],’ Drewe said. Merrion, the company to which Bull’s letter was addressed, was an American company that designed computers for security purposes, Drewe added. ‘They were installed on board ship to detect incoming missiles. Merrion designed a system for electronic countermeasures that was tested in the Iran–Iraq war.’
Julian Faux was the deputy director of the domestic security service, MI5, and the other individual named in the letter had worked under him, Drewe explained. The art fraudster claimed he had worked personally with both Faux and the employee and that the latter, under the influence of drink, had confided to him a similar story to that set out in the Bull letter. ‘What he told me was that Calvi was lured to the United Kingdom to have a meeting with him or Faux. He [the employee] made the phone call. It was to discuss the loans made by the Banco Ambrosiano to companies based in Brighton for export credits. The companies were set up by Faux to finance the trade of arms to Iraq. We can prove that huge sums went on export credits,’ Drewe said. Britain had thrown its financial and military weight behind Iraq following the expulsion of British Petroleum from the Abadan oil refinery during the death throes of the Shah of Iran’s regime, he said. The Banco Ambrosiano, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro and BCCI had all been involved in the financial push to sustain Saddam.
Drewe was sceptical of the thesis that Calvi had been murdered by the mafia for losing or embezzling its funds. ‘Calvi was murdered by the British, who had the most to hide. That’s my hypothesis,’ he said. He hinted that the CIA, with whom he had also allegedly cooperated, may have played a supervisory role in the affair. ‘He who pays the piper calls the
tune. The Americans have been paying the piper for a long, long time.’
A small, thin man with wiry brown hair, Drewe is hardly what one could describe as a copper-bottomed source. He achieved notoriety in 1996, when he was arrested for fraud at his home in Reigate, south of London. He was charged with commissioning forgeries from an impoverished British painter, John Myatt, who had a knack for turning out creditable imitations of the works of modern masters such as Braque, Matisse and Giacometti. While Myatt aged his works by smearing them with mud and dust from a vacuum cleaner, Drewe gave them a spurious authenticity by raiding the archives of leading London art galleries and forging certificates of authenticity. Police said it was the biggest contemporary art fraud of the twentieth century. He served two years of a six-year sentence for forgery, fraud and theft and was described as a fantasist by the prosecutor who obtained his conviction. The court disbelieved his claim that his illegal activities had taken place in the context of an international arms dealing conspiracy sanctioned by British intelligence. However, there does appear to be evidence that Drewe was given a raw deal at his trial. He claims to have been badly let down by his defence lawyer, refused permission to introduce relevant financial information as evidence and that police even denied the existence of the arms company Allivane International. In the light of the statement in 1991 by Allivane director Terence Byrne (
), one can understand why they might have been tempted to do so.
Whatever doubts may persist about Drewe’s reliability, Gerald James – himself an arms trade insider – is convinced that the fraudster had inside knowledge of the workings of the intelligence world that he could not have possessed if he had not belonged to it. ‘Drewe was on the board of companies in the United States that were involved in weapons sales,’ James told me. ‘His involvement in art started because the
South Africans sold art through Sotheby’s and Christie’s and used the money to fund operations by people like Harris.’ The dirty work of the intelligence services is rarely carried out by saints and it is rare enough to find intelligence insiders prepared to lift the veil of
that normally cloaks the secrets of their trade.
One further source suggests a link between British intelligence and Calvi’s demise. In evidence at the Rome murder trial, Francesco Pazienza appeared to hint that the Vatican was the institution with the strongest interest in Calvi’s elimination. But interviewed in January 1985 by a US Customs investigator, Thomas K. Galligan, he had told a somewhat different story. Galligan’s note of the interview states: ‘Pazienza stated that Calvi used Ambrosiano funds, passing through Bank [Banco] Andino, Peru, to finance the purchase by Argentina of Exocet missiles, used by Argentina against Britain during the Falklands War.’ The note continued: ‘Pazienza stated that he was not in London at the time Calvi died but had left England the day previous. He further stated that he was certain, although could not then establish, that Calvi had been murdered by British Masons, members of M5/M6 [sic] at the request of the Italian Masonic Lodge P2.’ Pazienza also stated that he had obtained documents ‘which he claimed established a far greater involvement by the Vatican in the financial machinations of Ambrosiano than had previously been established’.
A P2 interest in the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and in the arming of Argentina prior to it is not in the least unlikely. The political brain behind the invasion was Admiral Emilio Massera, a friend of Licio Gelli and member of Gelli’s secret lodge. A former member of the military junta that seized power in 1976, Massera was hoping to become president after a return to democratic elections, buoyed by
popular enthusiasm for the recovery of Las Malvinas from Britain. ‘The money for Massera’s political project came from P2. Massera bought a publishing company, Editorial Abril, with which to begin his political campaign. The money came from Calvi,’ said a source familiar with events of the time. ‘When war broke out the principal offensive weapon that the Argentinians had was the Exocet missiles bought by Massera for the navy’s air force. Calvi had financed the Exocet acquisitions and the military junta, there’s no doubt about that.’
It is estimated that Argentina spent as much as $14 billion on arms purchases – a quarter of its total foreign debt – between 1976 and the beginning of the Falklands war in 1982. As head of the navy, Massera had been responsible for a significant slice of those purchases and his friend Licio Gelli acted as a broker in many of the deals. The equipment ordered by the navy included six submarines and four destroyers from West Germany, 14 Super Etendard fighter planes and accompanying Exocet missiles from France, and 10 Lynx helicopters and two destroyers from Britain. The Exocets are believed to have been paid for through Calvi’s Banco Andino in Peru. Peru reportedly resupplied Argentina with munitions, including the precious Exocets, while the conflict was under way. Argentina was originally supposed to buy frigates from Italy, but Massera took umbrage and cancelled the deal after workers in the La Spezia shipyards came out on strike to protest against his 1977 visit to Italy.
The Banco Ambrosiano helped to underwrite part of this expenditure by organizing a $200 million syndicated loan, to which it contributed a modest $500,000 directly. Gelli’s influence was particularly strong in the Banco Ambrosiano in Argentina, the offices of which were in the same building as those of Admiral Massera. Giacomo Botta, who worked in the Banco Ambrosiano’s foreign department, recalled how Calvi had commissioned a well-connected German banker in Argentina to introduce him to three or four suitable candidates for a seat
on the new bank’s board. ‘He brought him the very best of Argentina’s financial establishment, but at the last minute Calvi changed his mind and replaced them with other names,’ Botta said. The new figures were connected to the military establishment and a key role in their selection was played by Aldo Alasia, an alleged member of P2. The Ambrosiano was involved in financing arms purchases elsewhere in Latin America too, helping Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru to acquire warships.