An Italian banker at the centre of a series of political and financial scandals has been found dead in London.

The body of Roberto Calvi, 61, head of Italy's biggest private bank, the Banco Ambrosiano, was discovered hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge on a quiet riverside walk in the City early on Friday. He had been missing from his Rome flat for over a week.

City of London police said yesterday they did not think foul play was involved. Speculation in Italy that Calvi may have been murdered by political or financial enemies has been ruled out.

Calvi was due in an Italian court tomorrow to appeal against a two-year prison sentence for currency offences. He was also due to pay a fine of £5 million, as one of 11 Italian bankers convicted last year for illegally exporting currency. Calvi had tried to kill himself during the trial.

Scandal and controversy surrounded Calvi's name in recent years. A clerk who worked his way up to president of a worldwide banking empire, the legacy Calvi leaves behind could cause grave problems for the country's one-year-old Spadolini Government.

Banco Ambrosiano had a 40 per cent stake in the publishing group which owns Italy's biggest newspaper, the Corriere della Sera.

Calvi had a close relationship with many leading government and opposition politicians and also with the Vatican bank, the Institute for Works of Religion.

He was also heavily connected with last year's P2 lodge Freemasonry scandal, as an intimate of Licio Gelli, who has now fled to Uruguay. Gelli was Grand Master of the secret organisation - a state within a state - whose unmasking led to the collapse of the Forlani Government in May last year.

Banco Ambrosiano's latest crisis began earlier this month when Italy's Central Bank asked Calvi to account for $1.4 billion in Euro-market debts and interest charges incurred since 1978 by four subsidiaries.

Calvi reportedly tried to cover the debt through dealing with the Vatican bank. It appears the approach to the Vatican failed and Calvi disappeared soon afterwards, on 11 June.

At first it was feared he had been kidnapped, but it was later learnt he had flown to Venice and hired a private aircraft to travel to an unknown destination.

Last Thursday the board of the bank was dissolved, the company's affairs placed in the hands of a Central Bank commissioner, and the company's quotation on the Milan Stock Exchange was suspended after it had lost 30 per cent of its value.

That morning his personal secretary, Graziella Corrocher, jumped to her death in Milan leaving a note in which she 'damned' Calvi for bringing shame on the bank.

News of her death was carried in Friday morning's English newspapers. By 8 o'clock that morning Calvi's body had been found. A false passport in the name of Gian Roberto Calvini was found on him; police in Italy had held his real passport for the last year.

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