Archives for posts with tag: Elena Segre

Rome, Feb 1972: Pietro Valpreda, Roberto Gargamelli and Emilio Bagnoli — and nine others (Piazza Fontana trial presided over by judge Orlando Falco)

The proceedings had been under way for only a few days before everything ground to a halt. The scene was the Court of Assizes in Rome and the trial, which opened on 23 February 1972, was that of the anarchists from the Circolo 22 Marzo, of Pietro Valpreda’s relations and, in his absence, the Nazi-fascist Stefano Delle Chiaie for giving perjured evidence on Mario Merlino’s behalf.

But the judges, however, soon realised that the matter was not within their competence. Prompted by some of the anarchists’ defence lawyers — Francesco Piscopo, Giuliano Spazzali, Placido La Torre and Rocco Ventre — court president Orlando Falco chose to rid himself of what had become a hot potato of a trial. Even the public prosecutor Vittorio Occorsio tried to pin the shortcomings and partiality of the investigation on his colleague, examining magistrate Ernesto Cudillo.

It was as though he wanted it forgotten that he had launched the investigations. It was he who had arranged the identification by taxi-driver Cornelio Rolandi. Again, it was he who — in the indictment presented to the courts, as if to salvage the only piece of evidence on which he had built his indictment — had denied the glaringly obvious.

Occorsio wrote:

What Rolandi claimed in the preliminary section of the identification document — ‘I was shown by the carabinieri in Milan a photograph that I was told must the person whom I should recognise’ — should be taken to mean that when Rolandi was shown Valpreda’s photograph at police headquarters, the taxi driver was asked to identify him — yes or no, of course — as the person he had carried in his taxi. Any inference in this connection regarding supposed and implicit solicitation of positive recognition is quite gratuitous.” And in order to hammer home this convoluted reasoning, he concluded: “Indeed if the word ‘should’ was used, the obligation implicit in that very term refers to the judicial burden of the act of identification rather to the results thereof.”

Faced with such untenable positions the Court in Rome switched everything to Milan on 6 March. The trial had returned, as judicial logic would have it, to the city where the massacre had occurred. But Milan prosecutor-general, Enrico De Peppo, was not having that. According to him, Milan could not offer the necessary neutrality in which to debate a matter of such delicacy. Furthermore — according to De Peppo — the city was virtually under the control of extra-parliamentary leftists eager to mount actions “designed to demonstrate — regardless of due process — the alleged innocence of Valpreda and the other co-accused.” Actions that might provoke a response from the far right. He applied to the Court of Cassation to have the case relocated again, and on 13 October the case was placed under the jurisdiction of the Catanzaro Court of Assizes.

But it did not begin immediately. It was not until 27 January 1975 that proceedings opened, proceedings that would find the anarchists — Pietro Valpreda, Emilio Bagnoli, Emilio, Roberto Gargamelli, Ivo Della Savia and Enrici Di Cola; Valpreda’s relations — Maddalena Valpreda, Ele Lovati, Rachele Torri and Olimpia Torri — in the dock beside the indescribable Mario Merlino, the Nazi-fascists: Franco Freda, Giovanni Ventura, Stefano Delle Chiaie, Marco Pozzan and Piero Loredan di Volpato del Montello; fascists working for the secret services: Guido Giannettini and Stefano Serpieri, and SID officers: Gianadelio Maletti, Antonio Labruna and Gaetano Tanzilli.

Emilio Alessandrini (Milan magistrate)

Why this motley crew? The Catanzaro court combined two trials that led to irreconcilable results — the investigation by Occorsio and Cudillo and the later investigation by Milanese magistrates Gerard D’Ambrosio and Emilio Alessandrini. The latter case also relied on inquiries conducted by magistrates in Treviso and Padua and elsewhere — inquiries that had brought to light the part played by the fascists and secret services in the bombing strategy.

The first verdict was returned on 23 February 1979, nearly ten years after the attacks. Three life sentences — for Freda, Ventura and Giannettini, for the massacre and outrages. But Giannettini was the only one in court: Freda was on the run in Costa Rica and Ventura in Argentina. Maletti was sentenced to four years for procuring perjured testimony and Labruna and Tanzilli each got two years. Valpreda and Gargamelli were cleared of massacre, on grounds of insufficient evidence and convicted on the count of criminal conspiracy. Valpreda was sentenced to four years and six months and Gargamelli one year and six months. Bagnoli was given a two year suspended sentence for criminal conspiracy; Merlino was cleared on grounds of insufficient evidence, but got four years and six months for criminal conspiracy.

Rome, 29 December 1972: Roberto Gargamelli

The treatment doled out to Valpreda’s relations— who had supported the anarchist’s alibi — was somewhat ambiguous and the perjury charge was thrown out. The same line was taken with Delle Chiaie. And what of Elena Segre, Valpreda’s friend, who had also confirmed the anarchist’s alibi? She had vanished from the records. Another mystery.

The findings handed down in Catanzaro amounted to a contradictory sentence: it recognised the guilt of Freda, Ventura and Giannettini, but was still partly rooted in the case prepared by Judges Occorsio and Cudillo — hence the decision to dismiss the case against the anarchists and conspiracy convictions on the basis of insufficient evidence.

But something else cast an ambiguous light on the verdict. Faced with reticence on the part of some of the VIP witnesses, the judges in Catanzaro opted not to take action themselves, and referred the trial records relating to ex-premiers Giulio Andreotti and Mariano Rumor, and former ministers Mario Tanassi (Defence) and Mario Zagari (Justice) back to Milan. The judges did, however, have grounds for pride in the contradictions into which General Saverio Malizia, Tanassi’s legal adviser, blundered and had him arrested in the courtroom. He was tried immediately and sentenced to one year, but was soon released. This was followed by the usual outcome — the Court of Cassation annulled the trial and referred the case to the Court of Assizes in Potenza who cleared Malizia on all counts on 30 July 1980.

To the aid of the politicians came the judge from Milan, Luigi Fenizio (to whom the investigation had passed when Alessandrini was killed by members of the underground Prima Linea organisation on 29 January 1979) who forwarded an order declaring their innocence to the parliamentary commission of inquiry. On 24 August 1981 the commission closed the file on the accusations against Andreotti, Rumor, Tanassi and Zagari and all four politicians were dropped from the investigation.

But the real sensation came at the appeal hearing when, on 20 March 1981, the Catanzaro court cleared the fascists and the anarchists on the count of massacre. So now no one was to blame for the Piazza Fontana. Freda and Ventura were sentenced to 15 years for conspiracy to subvert and for the bomb attacks of 25 April 1969 and 9 August 1969. In effect, the judges unpicked the logical continuity — underpinned by the evidence — which linked the three main 1969 attacks. They absolved Giannettini on grounds of insufficient evidence and reduced the sentences passed on Maletti and Labruna.

The court of Cassation had this in mind when, on 10 June 1982, it entrusted a second appeal to Bari, to put paid once and for all to the proceedings against Giannettini, who was able to announce: “The implication of myself was prompted by political motives. The intention was to strike at the SID through me.”

The same ritual was played out in the appeal court in Bari (Puglia) — with one outstanding difference: the prosecutor, Umberto Toscani, asked that Valpreda be found not guilty. But the judges chose to stick with tradition:  doubt should serve the fascists as well as the anarchists. Meanwhile, they reduced Maletti’s sentence — who was on the run in South Africa — to one year, and that of Labruna to ten months.

With that verdict on 1 August 1985 the curtain was to be brought down on the Piazza Fontana massacre. The final act came in the Court of Cassation in Rome, which rejected every application for a new trial (the Cassation was in fact the central prop of this courtroom farce). It was the highest levels of the judiciary that had taken the initial investigation away from Milan and entrusted them to Rome. They were the ones who had argued that Milan was ungovernable and that the trial should be heard in Catanzaro. They had also conjoined the cases against the anarchists and the fascists.

On 27 January 1987, the first section of the Court of Cassation put paid to a trial that had spread out to occupy time and space. It was Judge Corrado Carnevale (who was later to earn fame as the “verdict-quashing judge”) who was in charge of the most important section of the Court of Cassation and who distinguished himself as the “king of the nit-pickers”, who put Mafiosi, terrorists and bankrupts back on the streets.

Judge Corrado Carnevale

Mario Tutti

Here are a few examples of this: on 16 December 1987, Carnevale annulled the Italicus massacre case, the main accused in which were the neo-fascists Mario Tuti and Luciano Franci. Earlier he had repealed the life sentence passed on the Greco brothers who had been found guilty of ordering the murder of Judge Rocco Chinnici. On 25 June 1990 Carnevale repealed the life sentence passed on Raffaele Cutolo, head of the mafioso Nuova Camorra Organizzata. He also cleared Licio Gelli, on 15 October 1990, on charges of subversion and membership of an armed gang. On 5 March 1991 he ordered a retrial in the case of the 24 December 1984 bombing of the Naples-Milan express in which 16 people were killed and hundreds injured. The upshot of this was the repeal of the life sentence passed on mafia boss Pippo Calò. Such frantic activity could scarcely pass unremarked and in 1995 Judge Carnevale’s performance was the subject of a book, La giustizia è cosa nostra (Justice is Our Thing).

Mario Tuti and Luciano Franci

Carnevale has repealed 134 life sentences — 19 of which were passed on the mafioso Mommo Piromalli — plus 700 years’ imprisonment for 96 people charged with mafia membership, drug-dealing and murders.

In short, now the massacre was the subject of new court proceedings following the arrest of Delle Chiaie, Carnevale was the very man for the Piazza Fontana case. And so, on 26 October 1987, the seventh trial relating to the Piazza Fontana massacre — not counting the two aborted by the Court of Cassation — opened with Delle Chiaie and Massimiliano Fachini together in the dock. After 90 sittings, both men were cleared of involvement on 20 February 1989, a verdict confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 5 July 1991

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The demonisation of Pietro Valpreda

“THE TERROR machine has been blown apart. It is now only a matter of picking up the pieces. The beast responsible for the fourteen lives lost in the Piazza Fontana and perhaps also the death, the suicide in the Via Fatebenefratelli, has been arrested and locked down: his face is here on this newspaper page. We must never forget it. The beast made us cry and brought the taste, the bitterest taste of pain and rage to our hearts of hearts. Now we can begin to breathe again and start to get the measure of the diabolical adventure. The butcher’s name is Pietro Valpreda; he is thirty-seven years old and has never amounted to anything in his whole life.  Apart from one elderly aunt who irons his shirts and brushes down overcoat, he has fallen out with his entire family. She helps him out. He comes from the madcap world of be-bop and rock, a world where the men are men and the girls are too. He has dabbled in outdoor dances and dances on the city centre streets.  Available also for stage work in musical revues, he used to play the boy, one of those with arching pencilled eyebrows, dressed in the most foppish trousers, like some soubrette walking or leaping down from a staircase of glittering neon lights. What a short-lived, unhappy and poorly paid profession. This wretch is also unwell. The circulation in his legs is not as it should be. He has Burger’s disease, a savage ailment that causes a blockage and could bring on an embolism and death. Step by step, Pietro Valpreda is on the road to becoming a monster.”

This was the opening paragraph of an article published on the front page of the Corriere d’Informazione of Wednesday 17 December 1969, over the by-line of Vittorio Notarnicola. The editor was Giovanni Spadolini who was adding this job to his post as number one at the Corriere della Sera. Two large photos — one of the taxi-driver Cornelio Rolandi and a photo of Pietro Valpreda overshadowed the article. The bold capitalised headline read:  ‘VALPREDA DONE FOR’.

The morning papers that day, formally less sensational, took a clear line, albeit with some circumlocution. They accepted Valpreda’s guilt unreservedly. Corriere della Sera proclaimed: ‘Anarchist Valpreda arrested for collusion in the Milan massacre’. La Stampa opted for: ‘Anarchist arrested for colluding in massacre. Inquiry into suicide at police headquarters in Milan’. Il Giorno went for ‘Charged with massacre’. L’Unità chose: ‘Arrest made for massacre’. Avanti!: ‘Arrested for collusion in massacre’. Il Resto del Carlino declared: ‘An anarchist arrested for massacre’. Il Messaggero went for: ‘Criminals arrested’. Il Tempo: ‘Murderer arrested: anarchist Pietro Valpreda’. Paese Sera opted for: ‘Man identified by cab-driver reported for colluding in the massacre’. Il Popolo: ‘Anarchist arrested over Milan massacre’. Il Mattino plumped for: ‘Terrorist who carried out massacre arrested’. Roma: ‘Arrested: the monster is an anarcho-communist dancer from Canzonissima’.

Television was not far behind. Reporter Bruno Vespa, speaking live from the police headquarters in Rome during the evening show of 16 December, stated: ‘Pietro Valpreda is a culprit, one of those responsible for the massacre in Milan and the attacks in Rome. There had to be no question about that.’

Cornelio Rolandi, taxi driver (State witness against Valpreda

So it looked as if the file could be closed. The police had tracked down those responsible in record time. The sole basis for these accusations was the taxi-driver Cornelio Rolandi’s statement — and it was barely credible.

At 4.00 pm. on 12 December, Rolandi was in his Fiat 600 in the Piazza Beccaria when a customer asked him to take him to the junction at the Via Santa Tecla. When they arrived the fare asked Rolandi to wait while he got out, carrying a black bag. He returned after a few minutes and they drove to the Via Albricci where Rolandi dropped him.

Anyone familiar with Milan city centre will find this strange. The taxi rank in the Piazza Beccaria is 135 metres from the entrance to the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura. It is 117 metres from the Via Santa Tecla to the bank.

In order to spare himself a journey of 135 metres, Valpreda allegedly made a return trip 234 metres, with the added risk of possible recognition by the random taxi driver he asked to make the trip.

This is how Rolandi remembered that afternoon: ‘the guy with the bag boarded my taxi in the Piazza Beccaria; he was clutching a black bag in his hand. I looked at him in the rear-view mirror and spotted right away he had the long sideburns in fashion these days. He asked me to drive him to the Via Albricci via the Via Santa Tecla. The trip was quite a short one, but in the Via Albricci there are lots of airline offices. I thought he might be a passenger off on a flight. I stopped in the Via Santa Tecla, as requested by the fare. I said that the Via Albricci was not far away and that he could walk it, but he told me to wait as he was pressed for time. Off he went with the bag. He returned after a short time, but without the black bag.  I drove him to the Via Albricci where he paid the 600 lire fare and left.’ (Franco Damerini, ‘Intervisto a Milano con il teste-chiave’ in Corriere dell’Informazione, 17 December).

Apart from the fact that under the fare structures of the time the cost of that short journey, complete with tip, ought to have been no more than half of the 600 lire mentioned by Rolandi, there is evidence that throws doubt on this reconstruction of events. It comes from Liliano Paolucci, director of the Milan school principals’ associations. Paolucci caught taxi 3444 (Rolandi’s taxi) with his daughter Patrizia on the morning of 15 December and observed that the taxi driver was obviously a novice, continually taking the wrong turn. Once his daughter had been dropped off at her school, Rolandi confided in Paolucci who taped his recollections of the conversation on Sunday 21 December in order to have a definite record of this strange encounter:

‘To the best of my recollection, this is the story told to me by the taxi-driver. It was about 4.00 pm. on 12 December. I was in the Piazza Beccaria when I saw a man of around forty years of age entering the Piazza Beccaria from the Galleria del Corso. He came up to me in flawless Italian with no regional accent and: “Banca dell’Agricoltura in the Piazza Fontana.” I replied: ‘But the Banca dell’Agricoltura is only a few steps away — 50 metres away, signore. You’d be better off walking it.“ He said nothing, opened the door and stepped into the taxi. I had a good view of him. He was carrying a briefcase, a fat briefcase that appeared very weighty. Off we drove to the Banca dell’Agricoltura, within five or six minutes. He got out of the taxi, walked briskly into the Bank and came out equally briskly within 40 or 50 seconds, a minute at most. He got back into the taxi and he said: “At this point Paolucci interrupted asked him why the man would be coming from the Galleria del Corso. Rolandi’s response was priceless: “Don’t you know that the Galleria del Corso is a notorious hangout?’ A claim he repeated three times.

Even more mysteriously, though, Rolandi was later to deny that he had ferried Paolucci and that he had spoken with him. Even more strangely, the police and the magistrates never confronted Rolandi with Paolucci to compare their differing versions of events.  That was not the only oddity, as Paolucci himself pointed out to the reporter Enzo Magri who interviewed him for the weekly L’Europeo of 9 March 1972:

‘At 9.15 am on the Monday, I, a citizen, reported a serious matter. […]  I gave chapter and verse in my report. Yet how did the police react? They did not jump on it, never rushed round to see me and never even contacted me by phone. Bear in mind that Cornelio Rolandi had yet to approach the carabinieri in the Via Moscova, where he would report at 1.35 am that day. So this Rolandi could have been a nutcase, but equally he could have been telling the truth. And they say the truth has to be sought out before anybody gets the chance to eradicate it […] I, however — the only person with any knowledge of a disconcerting truth — was called by the telephonist at police headquarters half an hour after my call and told: “I am the police officer who took your call. Are you aware perhaps that you didn’t ask the taxi driver how the man whom he dropped off outside the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura was dressed?”’

Rachele Torri (Valpreda's Great Aunt)

These were not the only contradictions Paolucci mentioned. There was another witness too — a very important one. This witness insisted that Valpreda was in bed sick on 12 December. Who was it?  Valpreda’s great aunt Rachele Torri who lived in the Via Vincenzo Orsini in Milan.

This was how the great aunt remembered that afternoon: ‘Pietro was in bed with a fever. He was about to fetch the overcoat that he would need the following morning if he were to keep his appointment with Judge Amati.  Well, I went instead. It must have been 7.00 – 7.30 pm and I remember that as I was boarding the E bus in the Piazza Giovanni dalle Bandere a lady opened a copy of La Notte and I caught sight of some headline about deaths. I asked her if there had been an accident and she replied that there had been bombings. I got off in the Piazza del Duomo and cut through the Via Dogana to catch the No 13 tram to Pietro’s parents’ place in the Piazza Corvetto. I stopped at the newsagent’s and bought a copy of La Notte. When I arrived at my niece’s flat I told her that Pietro had arrived, ill, which was why I had come to fetch his overcoat.  Pietro’s sister, Nena, urged me to get him to eat something and gave me the overcoat and some shoes. I then went straight home and told Pietro his sister had asked him to eat something. Then I gave him the newspaper.’ (Interview with Rachele Torri in Rivista A— Rivista Anarchica of February 1971).

The next day, 13 December, Valpreda met with his lawyer Mariani and went with him to a meeting with Judge Amati. The judge was not available so they left him a note saying Valpreda would call again on Monday the 15th. He then made his way to the home of his grandparents, Olimpia Torri Lovati and Paolo Lovati in the Viale Molise, where he remained until the morning of 15 December.

His sister, Maddalena and girlfriend, 33-year-old Elena Segre, a translator who lived in an apartment block in the Viale Lucania where Valpreda’s parents lived, called to see him. Segre dropped by to see Valpreda at around 6.00 pm. on Sunday the 14th.

In an interview with Giampaolo Pansa in La Stampa on 18 February 1970, Segre stated: ‘Pietro was here at his grandparents’ place. I rang the bell and they let me in. He was on the settee pushed against the wall over to the left, wearing blue pyjamas and he got up to meet me…’ Pansa interrupted to remind her that her evidence had already been taken by Ernesto Cudillo, the examining magistrate, and by Vittorio Occorsio, the public prosecutor and that therefore if she told lies they could arrest her.

Segre replied: ‘Listen, the guy was there on the Sunday! What can I do about it if I saw him there? He greeted me. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. He sat on the sofa bed as did he and I was sitting on my right, facing his two grandparents. We chatted […]’

So Valpreda had an alibi for the days from 12 to 15 December — alibis that showed he could not have been in the Piazza Fontana and contradicted his incredible taxi trip.

Croce Nera Anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross) posters

Croce Nera Anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross) posters

By that time it was hard to argue Valpreda was guilty. But the police and magistrates had certainly not acknowledged defeat. And so, a little over a month later in early February 1970, they brought out a few Roman witnesses to testify that Valpreda had been in Rome on 13 and 14 December. If Valpreda’s relations were telling lies about those two dates, then they had lied about 12 December too and so the taxi driver Rolandi’s testimony would stand.

Who were these witnesses? Ermanna Ughetto, stage name Ermanna River, Enrico Natali, Gianni Sampieri, Armando Gaggegi and his wife and Benito Bianchi — all avant-garde theatre folk who appeared regularly at the Ambra-Jovinelli theatre in Rome.

But when Valpreda was brought face to face with these witnesses on 6 March, there were clearly two conflicting versions of events. The Roman witnesses claimed to have met in Rome Valpreda on 13 or 14 December. Valpreda argued that the meeting they referred to had taken place about ten days earlier — shortly after Valpreda had been released from the Regina Coeli prison on 25 November.

Valpreda and Gargamelli (1970 - during their trial for the 19 November 1969 affray)

In fact, Valpreda had been arrested on 19 November following a fracas with fascists in the Trastevere district.  But there was another detail. During a medical inspection prior to his entering prison, Valpreda had bruising around his left eye, bruising that had cleared up by the time he was arrested on 15 December. Some of the witnesses remembered the bruising when they claimed they had met Valpreda after the Piazza Fontana massacre. This was another contradiction that does not appear to have raised doubts in the minds of Cudillo and Occorsio, who indicted Valpreda’s relatives for perjury.  Inexplicably, though, no action was taken against Segre who made the same claims.

To add to the charge sheet, on 7 February Benyamin Safari from Milan police headquarters stated that the bag containing the unexploded bomb in the Banca Commerciale Italiana contained a piece of stained glass similar to that used by Valpreda in the manufacture of his liberty lamps. An unforgivable oversight by the anarchist bomber.

According to the police, the discovery of this incredible evidence dated back to 2.00 pm. on 14 December 1969, but nobody spotted the coloured glass until February. Valpreda’s defence counsel, Guido Calvi, was easily able to cast doubt on this “heaven-sent” discovery.

Valpreda's parents with Guido Calvi (right), Valpreda's barrister

As the judges saw it, Valpreda arrived in Milan in his Fiat 500 on 12 December. At 4.00 pm. he took a taxi to plant his bomb in the Piazza Fontana. On the morning of 13 December he accompanied his lawyer Mariani to see Judge Amati. He failed to find him and left a note to say that he would return on 15 December. Then he left for Rome in his beaten-up Fiat 500.

That evening he bumped into the dancer Ughetto and went to dinner with her. On Sunday 14 December he was back in the bar near the Ambra-Jovinelli theatre where he was seen by others who would be able to give the lie to his alibi. He was still in Rome as of 9.00 pm. By 8.00 am the following day he was back in Milan with his lawyer.

Technically, using a different car perhaps, this was feasible. But it defies belief that Valpreda would have put together a false alibi that could so readily be rebutted by so many people. Just as it defies understanding why Valpreda’s relatives and his girlfriend Segre, with whom he had not spoken at the moment of his arrest, were able to confirm what Valpreda had said. Cudillo and Occorsio had a different version of the truth — Valpreda was guilty. Not only was he a liar, but his parents were also lying. Especially when Rolandi was telling the truth and was in for the 50 million lire reward from the Interior ministry. Cudillo and Occorsio made sure this truth was written into the record in an interrogation ‘for future use’; perhaps they foresaw Rolandi’s death on 16 July 1971.