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26.  Paraparal

Faithful, docile. We want this to be our disposition and we will tell Jesus, using the words of the Father: 'Yes, Lord ... I will be faithful, and I will let the hands of my Superiors mould me so as to have this distinctive supernatural polish of our family.'
-- Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, 'In the Hands of the Potter', Cronica X, 1958

JOSE MARlA RUIZ-MATEOS HAD NOT ONLY TRUSTED LUIS VALLS LIKE A brother but he considered him one of the Work's leading strategists. But for two persons who shared similar views, their lifestyles were vastly different. Ruiz-Mateos was outgoing, while Valls was reflective, almost monkish. Ruiz-Mateos was accessible to his staff, and enjoyed talking with them; Valls secreted himself away on the top-f1oor-but-one of Banco Popular Espanol's new Presidencia in Madrid's Edificio Beatriz. Banco Popular's name appeared nowhere on the building's exterior, nor was it displayed in the entrance lobby. The topmost floor was reserved for Luis Valls's penthouse and roof garden. Even though an inscribed numerary, for many years he had refused to live in an Opus Dei residence.

Valls could never understand why Ruiz-Mateos insisted on displaying his octagonal bee emblem on all of Rumasa's four hundred enterprises. In this Valls was not alone. Alvaro del Portillo, when he came to Madrid, inevitably complained to Ruiz-Mateos, 'I see too many bees. Seriously, why do we have to see this little bee everywhere?' It was another way of saying that Ruiz-Mateos, for an Opus Dei person, was too up-front, too image-conscious, and that he didn't 'let the Lord shine through'.

This was a curious reflection from the prelate general of an organization that had the reputation of being madly narcissistic and extravagant in feathering its corporate nests, whether in Rome, Madrid or the high Andes. By the 1980s, Opus Dei in Spain had an annual budget of 6 million. Modest though this might seem, it only covered the operating costs of the regional vicariat and the nine provincial delegations. In reality, through its corporate network and full-time fund raisers, Spanish Opus Dei reportedly takes in on average 160 million a year. [1] This represents twice the annual budget of the Catholic Church in Spain. But what does the Obra, which claims to be a purely 'religious organization with no material assets', do with all this undeclared money? That is what the Spanish Socialist Party wanted to know.

For some time it had been apparent that Spain's next general elections, scheduled for October 1982, were likely to bring in the first Socialist government since the Civil War. Some Socialists blamed Opus Dei for fomenting an attempted coup d'etat that had occurred on 23 February 1981, delaying the party's return to power, and expected Felipe Gonzalez, the Socialist leader, to take retaliatory action. Luis Valls, for his part, feared the Socialists would seek to nationalize the banking sector. He made himself the unofficial spokesman of Spain's privately owned commercial banks in defending the right of free enterprise.

The Socialist threat could not have come at a worse time. Anticipating the Holy See's acceptance of the Portillo Option, Opus Dei's need for funds at this stage was immense. Spain, as usual, led the way when it came to raising cash for God's little needs. Ruiz-Mateos suspected that Gregorio Lopez Bravo, who after serving as Spain's foreign minister became deputy chairman of Banesto, the country's largest commercial bank, was given the task of covering the Portillo Option. But because of Opus Dei's insistence on discretion, even though they were the best of friends Lopez Bravo would never have admitted it. Nevertheless, in June 1980 he formed the Instituto de Educacion e Investigacion (IEI), with himself as chairman and Enrique Sendagorta Aramburu, another supernumerary, as deputy chairman. Sendagorta served on the board of Banco Vizcaya, and was deputy chairman of Induban, Vizcaya's investment banking arm. He personally contributed more than 1 million to the cause. Ruiz-Mateos was 'indexed' for a special payment to IEI of 1,500 million pesetas (7.9 million). He was told that the money was for the University of Navarra but he suspected it was really to help underwrite Opus Dei's takeover of the IOR.

Unable to meet this indexation at one go -- it was over and above Rumasa's quarterly decimus transfers -- Ruiz-Mateos proposed to pay the full amount over five years in annual instalments of 300 million pesetas (1.6 million) each, plus 10 per cent annual interest on the outstanding balance. To do this he issued five promissory notes to an intermediary, Hispano Alemana de Construcciones S.A., so that the notes could be discounted. The notes were issued on 9 December 1980, payable by the Banco Industrial del Sur in favour of Hispano Alemana on the same date each year. The first year's draft carried interest of 150 million pesetas (789,000), giving it a total face value of 450 million pesetas (2.4 million). In addition, Ruiz-Mateos furnished the Opus Dei directors with a written undertaking to renew this arrangement every five years for seventy-five years. The contract stipulated that the payments to Hispano Alemana were for IEI's account.

After Rumasa's takeover of Banco Atlantico, the Rumasa banks -- all twenty of them -- collectively moved into the prestige group of the top eight commercial banks in Spain, directly behind Luis Valls's Banco Popular Espanol. There was a fear among establishment bankers that Ruiz-Mateos had discovered some sort of new formula and if allowed to continue unchecked he would transform Rumasa into Spain's number one bank. The Banco de Espana reacted by pressuring Rumasa to open its books for inspection.

Ruiz-Mateos concluded that the most influential person in Spain's financial establishment was Luis Valls. He had noted that a majority of the central bank's directorate and board of governors were 'Vallses'  -- people who owed their allegiance to the chairman of Banco Popular Espanol -- including the governor, Jose Ramon Alvarez Rendueles, and his deputy, Mariano Rubio, who was responsible for insuring that Rumasa complied with the central bank's executive order. But Ruiz-Mateos was only too aware that if he opened Rumasa's books to Banco de Espana's inspection, the undeclared transfers to Opus Dei would be uncovered, causing both the Work and Rumasa a lot of problems. On the other hand, if he refused he risked provoking Rumasa's expropriation. He therefore decided to broach the matter with Valls.

Ruiz-Mateos claimed that Luis Valls assured him the Banco de Espana problem 'could be solved with money, by paying money'. [2] Ruiz-Mateos said that Valls instructed him to hire a political payoff specialist, Antonio Navalon Sanchez, and for legal work to retain the services of Matias Cortes Domingues. 'Both are people who enjoy my entire confidence,' Valls said.

'How much cash is needed?' Ruiz-Mateos asked.

'One thousand million pesetas [5.3 millionI for now,' Valls allegedly replied. [3]

Matias Cortes was Spain's leading criminal lawyer. Among his clients were Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African mock empire, the local representative of Rothschild Bank, a couple of Spain's leading publishers and Manuel de la Concha, president of the Madrid Stock Exchange who later, along with Mariano Rubio, went to prison for corruption. Cortes exuded influence; the king's private telephone number was in his agenda and he dined with cabinet ministers and dukes. He owned a public relations agency and an Italian restaurant, and did business with Dr Arthur Wiederkehr's convenience company factory. Although on close terms with Valls, on one occasion he noted under a reference to Opus Dei's senior banker and another person identified only as Pedro the comment 'soberbio, obsceno y chuleta de barrio' (arrogant, obscene and a neighbourhood hood). [4]

In March 1982 Ruiz-Mateos hired Navalon as a consultant. Ruiz-Mateos said he paid Naval6n, who had previously worked as political bagman for Valls, a monthly retainer of 31,560 without ever asking for a receipt. Cortes, Naval6n and Valls were friends of Pio Cabanillas, the ubiquitous notary public and justice minister in the transitionary government that brought democracy to Spain. Cortes was experienced in the school of hard-knocks lawyering. As Banesto's outside counsel, he had helped negotiate the 1978 takeover of Banca Coca. Ignacio Coca, who had risen to prominence under Franco, sold the bank for a substantial cash payment and 7 per cent of Banesto's share capital. Only afterwards did the Banesto board discover that Coca had over-valued the assets, using the crude device of fictitious property and securities holdings. Cortes asked Coca to make good the missing 8,000 million pesetas (42 million). Coca committed suicide.

The Socialists obtained an absolute majority in the October 1982 elections. With Gonzalez in the prime minister's office, Ruiz-Mateos asked Luis Valls what was going to happen. He said Valls told him to give Naval6n another 1,000 million pesetas, presumably for central bank officials or members of the new Socialist government. The money was handed over by Ruiz-Mateos's personal secretary, either in cash or bearer cheques. Adelighted Naval6n called the bribe money his 'candies'. [5]

A few months later, Opus Dei sent two emissaries to question Ruiz-Mateos about who in Rumasa knew of the transfers to Switzerland. He told them the transfers were handled by the head of his banking division, Carlos Quintas. That seemed to satisfy them but, reflecting on this later, Ruiz-Mateos concluded that, knowing what was about to happen, the emissaries wanted to make sure Quintas had cleansed the books of all Opus Dei-linked transfers. Also in early 1983 his two supposed friends, Banco Popular director Rafael Termes and Paco Curt Martinez, put back their shares in Ruiz-Mateos y Cia, a Rumasa subsidiary, to Ruiz-Mateos who, unsuspecting, bought both of them out according to a generous book-value formula. Reflecting on these events long afterwards, it seemed to Ruiz-Mateos that he was the only person in Madrid who didn't know that the government was going to seize Rumasa, apparently with Luis Valls manipulating the levers from behind the scenes.

Ruiz-Mateos came away from a meeting with Cortes and Naval6n on the morning of Wednesday, 23 February 1983, confident that a solution to Rumasa's problems was about to be found. But in the late afternoon Cortes met Petra Mateos, chef de cabinet of Miguel Boyer Salvador, the Socialist super-minister of economy and finance, who reported back to her boss that Rumasa definitely refused to comply. Boyer immediately gave orders for a para-military force to invest the Rumasa buildings in Madrid. The date was significant, being the second anniversary of the aborted coup d'etat that Ruiz-Mateos suspected had been financed by Valls. Ruiz-Mateos was at home when the expropriation was announced in a TV newsflash that evening and until then had no inkling that Rumasa's fate had been sealed.

'I learned of Rumasa's expropriation at the same time as the Spanish people -- at home, watching television. For days I had received no word from Valls. Some weeks before he had mysteriously called to tell me that Rumasa's expropriation was one of the alternatives under consideration by the Socialists, but not to worry as Rome was not lost, and for this reason I still trusted him,' Ruiz-Mateos later wrote to Don Alvaro del Portillo. [6]

All of Navalon's candies had come to nothing. Miguel Boyer explained to the nation that Rumasa had refused to submit to a government audit. Boyer said he feared that, having over-extended itself, the Ruiz-Mateos empire was about to collapse. While a privately owned holding company, he pointed out that Rumasa controlled many publicly traded banks and corporations. If suddenly the empire collapsed he feared it would provoke a national crisis. This danger justified his intervention.

A dejected Ruiz-Mateos asked Luis Valls, 'What do I do now?'

'You keep your mouth shut and get out of the country,' he said Valls advised him. 'We'll help you, but you must do what Matias Cortes tells you.'

And so, in a move reminiscent of Calvi's flight from Italy, Ruiz-Mateos disappeared from sight. He arrived in London accompanied by his private secretary Pepe Diaz, banking director Carlos Quintas and a bevy of private bodyguards. He was exhausted and depressed. He was told on no account to disclose his membership in the Work. To insure his obedience, he was assigned a new spiritual director, Frank 'Kiko' Mitjans, a Catalan for whom he never felt much warmth, and a permanent minder, Benedict Whyte, who Ruiz-Mateos described as 'a very gentle but obedient person'.

Ruiz-Mateos's whereabouts remained a mystery to the Spanish press, fuelling all sorts of rumours concerning his dishonesty and criminal responsibility in provoking the Rumasa crisis. He felt isolated, but his faith remained strong. He attended Mass daily at Saint Mary's Church in Codogan Street, Belgravia, around the corner from Sloane Street. He always arrived in a black limousine, preceded by an identical vehicle containing his bodyguards. He sat at the back of the church. When he wished to celebrate the marriage of his eldest daughter, the pastor of Saint Mary's was asked to turn over the church to Opus Dei for the occasion.

As the weeks passed, Ruiz-Mateos became convinced that Valls had betrayed him to save Banco Popular Espanol from nationalization. The authorities and press painted him more 'of a scoundrel each day. Boyer claimed there was a $2,000 million hole at Rumasa. According to Ruiz-Mateos's reckoning, the group should have shown a net worth of $3,300 million. From London he instructed one of his lawyers, Opus Dei supernumerary Crispin de Vicente, to sue the government, seeking the return of his assets. The government retaliated by charging Ruiz-Mateos with fraud, keeping false books and illegally exporting capital. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Investigators found copies of Rumasa promissory notes for 9.3 million (interest included) in favour of IEI. Lopez Bravo confirmed that the IEI -- which he said provided financial assistance to students and researchers - had received 870 million pesetas (4.6 million) from Ruiz-Mateos but denied that the institute transferred the money to Opus Dei, which, had it been destined for the IOR, was of course correct. Opus Dei also denied that it had ever received monies from Ruiz-Mateos. [7]

'I am not a member of Opus Dei, though I sympathize with its objectives,' Ruiz-Mateos told Stephen Aris of the London Sunday Times. [8] A week later he told The Financial Times banking correspondent, 'I never met Calvi, but some people say I will end up like Calvi.' [9]

His declarations brought two Opus Dei supernumeraries to London to counsel him to remain silent. One of them, Luis Coronel de Palma, governor of the Banco de Espana from 1970 to 1976, hinted that the expropriation had been a deal to save Banco Popular Espanol from nationalization. Coronel was followed by Lopez Bravo. As a friend, Lopez Bravo was upset. He had already warned Ruiz-Mateos in an elliptical manner not to trust Valls. Opus Dei members are forbidden to speak badly of another member. This time Lopez Bravo, who was beginning to have his own doubts about certain Opusian ethics, assured Ruiz-Mateos, 'Luis Valls owes you an explanation.'

Over the next four months Luis Valls called twice. 'He told me that if I remained patient the future would be fascinating. He also said that we would meet soon with our brothers in a country yet to be determined to talk over everything ...' Then, after a visit from Navalon, Valls came to London to meet with his unhappy friend.

'You betrayed me,' Ruiz-Mateos told him.

'What are you talking about?' Valls replied.

Valls avoided any kind of explanation. At that point Ruiz-Mateos decided there were two Obras: Opus Dei, spiritually spotless, as originally intended by the Founder, and Opus Homini, the Obra that some men made of it. He decided to sever all ties with Opus Homini. He fired Matias Cortes, refused to have anything more to do with his London 'minder', Ben Whyte, and stopped giving his confidences to Kiko Mitjans. Opus Dei sent his former spiritual director of fifteen years, Boro Nacher, to London to try to reason with him. But Ruiz-Mateos refused to see him, suspecting Nacher of knowing all along that Valls and the Madrid directors were plotting to sacrifice Rumasa to the Socialists.

Ruiz-Mateos claimed he had never heard mention of the Caracas lawyer Alberto Jaimes Berti or the Paraparal property venture. If both he and Berti were telling the truth, then Opus Dei had been operating behind his back well before the expropriation, running money through Rumasa's banking sector without his knowledge or consent. According to Berti, the agent for this operation was Ruiz-Mateos's brother-in-law, Luis Baron Mora-Figueroa.

Ruiz-Mateos described his brother-in-law as '100-per cent Opus Dei. He is a wonderful man, but a fanatic of Opus Dei. To talk with him today is like talking to a brick wall.' Luis Baron likewise denied that he ever met Berti, and Ruiz-Mateos doubted that his brother-in-law had travelled to Caracas in 1980 on an investment mission.

Until the early 1980s, in addition to handling the Church finances in Venezuela, Berti acted as legal council to the Apostolic Nunciature in Caracas. He had set up a clerical pension fund through a company he founded under the name of Inpreclero and, at Archbishop Benelli's behest, he used another company -- Inecclesia -- for anonymously investing Church money in American blue chip securities or specially designated projects. Although managing director of both companies, they were controlled by the Venezuelan Conference of Bishops through its finance committee. Inecclesia had audited assets of $1,400 million.

Now Berti is the first to admit that he was never a great admirer of Escriva de Balaguer or the organization he founded. As counsel to the Apostolic Nunciature Berti had been called upon over the years to carry out some disagreeable tasks that were a source of embarrassment to the Prelature. The first occurred in 1970 when the nuncio in Caracas received a complaint from the parents of two teenaged boys in the diocese of Margarita, a group of islands off the Venezuelan coast. The parents were threatening criminal action against the local bishop for molesting their sons and the nuncio feared a scandal. He asked Berti to intervene. The Bishop of Margarita was Francisco de Guruceaga, Opus Dei's first vocation in Venezuela.

Berti flew to La Asuncion on the Isla de Margarita and through the help of a woman prosecutor in the sexual offences department got hold of and shredded the Guruceaga file. He then negotiated a $160,000 payment for the parents. The nuncio sent Guruceaga to London on an extended sabbatical, where he lived a secular existence for the next three years, travelling extensively.

In 1973 the new nuncio, Monsignor Antonio del Giudice, gave Guruceaga another chance and appointed him Bishop of La Guaira, a small diocese and port city in the federal district of Caracas. According to Berti, Guruceaga considered himself a mercantile prelate, licensed to make money for God's work. One of Guruceaga's deals had been the 1975 sale for $2.5 million of a tract of land belonging to the diocese of La Guaira. The money disappeared. Del Giudice's successor asked Berti to investigate. Berti said he gathered the documentary evidence and the nuncio sent his report to the secretary of state, Cardinal Villot, in Rome. Nothing more was heard of the affair.

At Benelli's request, Inecclesia also helped people connected with the Church to invest monies anonymously on the American stock markets. For Berti to handle the operation, however, the client needed to supply him with several letters of introduction from important ecclesiastic authorities or organizations like the Knights of Malta. He would tell the client to transfer the money to an Inecclesia account in Panama City. The money would then be assigned to a shell company in whose name the US securities were purchased. Once the money was fully invested, Berti furnished the client with the bearer share certificate of the Panamanian company.

This was the procedure used when Berti said he was contacted at the end of 1980 by Luis Baron Mora-Figueroa, chairman of Banco del Norte, one of the twenty banks belonging to the Rumasa group, and also a member of Rumasa's board of directors. He said Luis Baron presented him with several letters of recommendation from the Vatican and other Church authorities, including Villot's successor as secretary of state, Cardinal Casaroli, and the IOR's prelate-secretary Donato de Bonis. Luis Baron told Berti that he represented a syndicate of investors involved in a long-term project. At first Berti thought the project might have been the Latin American trade bank that Cardinal Siri had mentioned. Only later, when plans for the bank were shelved, did Berti suspect that the project was Paraparal, Venezuela's largest property development venture.

Paraparal was a planned 14,000-home residential city, on the shores of the Lago de Valencia, launched in 1976 by developer, Giuseppe Milone, who had arrived from Naples the year before. The cost of bringing Paraparal onto the market was estimated at around $2,000 million. Berti was Milone's Caracas attorney. As Berti pointed out, there were not a great many investors around with $2,000 million lying idle. The Church was one; the Mafia (or Naples's crime syndicate -- the Camorra) another. As for the former, Berti, a manager of Church money, was certainly qualified to give an opinion.

Luis Baron knew the precise distribution of liquidities inside the Rumasa group. His Banco del Norte assembled and collated the financial data required by the Banco de Espana for Rumasa's banking division, and it also prepared the regular reports sent to the monetary authorities detailing the group's foreign exchange positions. [10] Berti claimed that Luis Baron entrusted to Inecclesia's safekeeping $2,000 million, later increased by another $200 million. Berti said he followed the normal procedure. The money was transferred in several instalments to a Panamanian shell company and sent for investment to designated brokers in New York. The money in fact came in with some delay, requiring adjustments in the investment schedules. During this time Berti went to Rome on business and met the IOR's de Bonis. Berti claimed he discovered that de Bonis knew all about the Baron transaction. His familiarity with it convinced Berti that the IOR was also involved. Moreover, according to Berti, de Bonis mentioned that Roberto Calvi was another insider with full knowledge of the operation. [11] This made sense as Berti had noted that some of the monies received in Panama came through the Ambrosiano network.

At about this time, a palace revolution occurred within the Conference of Venezuelan Bishops. Francisco de Guruceaga took over the Conference's finance committee and immediately brought Inpreclero and Inecclesia under his control. Berti drew his mandate from a six-member board of directors -- of which he was one of the three lay members. Guruceaga bypassed the directors and in February 1983 appointed himself president of both companies in a procedure that Berti considered illegal. Berti refused to hand over the books. In retaliation Guruceaga accused him of embezzling up to $50 million from the clerical pension fund.

Assuming control of the two companies was consistent with Opus Dei's policy of monopolizing management of the Church's finances wherever and however it could. Opus Dei, for example, was said to have done the same under Pinochet, with its members taking over the Chilean Church's finances. [12] But it was their tactics that shocked Berti: 'Opus Dei was unscrupulous and immoral in their campaign to remove me. They tried to destroy me. For eight months they used the radio, TV and newspapers in a well orchestrated campaign of lies and hate that was impossible to counter.'

During his fray with Opus Dei, Berti uncovered what he considered was further evidence that the $2,200 million was destined for the Paraparal project. He knew that in 1981 the project faced one of its innumerable liquidity crises and risked going under. At the time Milone had been desperate to raise another $200 million. It was then, Berti said, that Calvi was asked to invest in Paraparal. But the Ambrosiano had treasury problems of its own, thanks to its United Trading exposure. Nevertheless Calvi agreed but as a show of good faith he requested that the syndicate make a compensatory deposit of $200 million with the Ambrosiano network. This was apparently done through the IOR, but Berti concluded that Calvi did not complete his side of the bargain because he said the banker called him in Caracas and asked him to get Milone to stop pressuring him for money.

Because of the Ambrosiano's deepening problems, Calvi was unable either to put up the $200 million or reimburse the 'compensatory' deposit. As a result, the Paraparal operation risked going under and other monies had to be found. This explained for Berti the delay in receiving the last slice of the $2,200 million, with one of Milone's backers stepping in to save the project from going under. If true, this would have made a marked man out of Calvi. While this description of events made sense, Berti's reasoning was based on deduction rather than hard facts, until one day he had to go to Rome to settle legal matters with Milone, and was threatened by a 'Mr. Tortola', who identified himself as a Camorra associate. Tortola told him: 'We reached Calvi in London and we can reach you any place you go.' [13]

Berti supposed an entry in Rumasa's books related to the Baron operation. But when Rumasa was expropriated, to prevent the government liquidators from tracing it, ownership of the Paraparal development was transferred to a new company called Cali S.A. Formed in Panama on the same day as Rumasa's nationalization, it acquired the litigation rights of a plaintiff who had brought an action against Paraparal. Cali won the case, placing the Paraparal development company in default, thereby enabling it to assume ownership. 'This was a very unusual form of sale,' Berti observed wryly. That it was, and very clean, too, as nothing linked Cali to the original investment syndicate.

Berti's story was based on a mixture of conjecture and insider knowledge. The Vatican and Opus Dei had also consistently denied involvement in Calvi's 'misdealings'. But towards the end of 1983, the Vatican realized it was going to be taken to court by the creditors of Banco Ambrosiano. This prodded the Vatican to take its first hesitant steps towards a settlement. In January 1984 the Vatican indicated through a Rome lawyer that it would consider making a $250 million (140.3 million) payment to settle the Ambrosiano affair. But the IOR did not have such a sum available. Some thought was given to raising a commercial loan for up to $90 million (50.5 million). Then at the end of January, Marcinkus claimed, the IOR arranged 'other financing'. [14]

The source of the 'other financing' has never been disclosed. But on 25 May 1984 the IOR agreed to pay $244 million (137 million) in settlement of all claims against it. When this amount was added to the time deposits and other assets it had forfeited, and the $99 million (55.6 million) in lira deposits that it repaid, the IOR's total loss in the Ambrosiano fiasco amounted to $510 million (286.3 million). [15] The settlement, in effect, left the IOR bankrupt. Marcinkus protested. 'It didn't kind of clear us out completely; we had to kind of lower our capital level,' he said. [16] But the IOR had no capital level, in that it had no share capital per se. It may have had reserves, and it had deposits. The IOR was kept in being, therefore, by the loyalty of its depositors. The largest depositor was Opus Dei.

There was a 'codicil' to the settlement whereby the IOR agreed to hand over to the creditors an assortment of bearer shares belonging to the United Trading family of companies -- those mentioned in the comfort letters. These included the entire share capital of the parent United Trading itself, and also 53,300 shares, representing 23 per cent of the share capital, of Banco Ambrosiano Holding, Luxembourg.

On the earthquake scale of financial disasters, by the payment to the Ambrosiano creditors, 1984 was definitely a volcanic nine for the Vatican. Where the money came from to cover this enormous hole was disclosed in the fuzziest of terms to the cardinals in a meeting that took place nine months later. They were informed that the IOR's $244 million payment 'was covered entirely by the [IOR] itself, without contributions from the Holy See and without drawing on the funds entrusted to the administration of the Institute.'

Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos was still denying any connection with the Prelature. But he was beginning to come out of a long decompression period with the certainty that he had been betrayed. Shortly after he fired his UK solicitor, the British Home Office refused to renew his residence permit, obliging him to leave the country. He was eventually arrested on a Spanish warrant in Frankfurt and held for three months before being freed on 2.7 million bail. He applied for political asylum, which was refused, and spent the next year and a half fighting extradition.

In the midst of the extradition proceedings, on 31 May 1985 Ruiz-Mateos composed a 45-page hand-written letter to Don Alvaro del Portillo that was frank, touching, full of hurt, but without bitterness, as a son unburdening his soul to a father, hoping for understanding, guidance, and some form of human warmth. It began:

I assure you, Father, that all the facts I tell you are true, and God knows it. My only aim is to inform you of what happened and, if convenient, to receive your advice. Everything has been taken from me. They didn't value anything. I have been dishonoured, discredited in my work and thrown out of Spain. I have been persecuted and slandered. I went to gaol and was separated from my family. Is there anything left? ...

I beg of you, Father, to put yourself in my situation and try to understand me. I'm sure you will feel compassion ... and that if only you understand what I am suffering it would help so much to alleviate the pain ...

He recited the parade of senior Opus Dei members who had come to see him in London and, later, while in prison in Frankfurt. They asked him to remain silent, but, he reflected, 'who really benefits if I keep silent ... ? You can be assured, Father, that at no time did I wish to involve the institution and I believe that I have demonstrated that heroically ...' But how was he rewarded for his silence? He claimed that the regional vicar for Germany had warned him, 'You could die tomorrow of a heart attack ...' The letter continued:

[M]y personal entourage is intimately linked to the Work: wife, children, brothers, brother-in-law and even my lawyer [Crispin de Vicente]. How many times I cried before them about my situation, only to receive a sepulchral silence and I noted that all of them looked at me with reserve, and finally I understood that they did not understand ...

He then cited a letter he had received from Luis Valls, denying any involvement in his problems with the Banco de Espana. 'If someone deceived you, it was not me,' Valls claimed.

To insure that his letter got into the hands of the prelate general, Ruiz-Mateos had his eldest son, Zoilo, deliver it in person to the Villa Tevere. Ruiz-Mateos never received a reply. But one day Amadeo de Fuenmayor came from Rome to see him.

'How is your soul?' Fuenmayor asked. 'Have you been following the norms?' Ruiz-Mateos brushed off the question and wanted to know what had happened to his letter.  

What letter?' Don Amadeo replied. 'Do you know that you could die tonight? Have a heart attack? Or die of cancer?'

In November 1985, the German authorities agreed to Ruiz-Mateos's extradition and he was flown to Madrid by military jet. He spent the next seven weeks in a maximum security wing of Alcala-Meco Prison, which gave him more time to reflect. He appeared at a remand hearing early in the New Year and escaped custody by donning a false moustache, wig and trenchcoat in the courthouse toilets, only to reappear a few days later at a well-publicized press conference to complain about the conditions of his detention. Thereafter, the red-faced authorities agreed to place him under house arrest.

By then he did not see why, on top of everything else, he should be charged with illegal export of capital when those who pressed him into doing it were not accused with him. And so he informed the Madrid magistrates that three national directors of Opus Dei -- Alejandro Cantero, Juan Francisco Montuenga and Salvador Nacher -- not only pressured him into making enormous contributions to Opus Dei but also had him transfer abroad the money for them. He said that he had diverted to Opus Dei abroad almost 40 million out of Rumasa's Cash flow. His allegations were promptly denied by Opus Dei's national headquarters, though it was now admitted that Ruiz-Mateos had been an Obra member after all.

In May 1986 the directorate of Opus Dei in Spain issued an ultimatum to Ruiz-Mateos, threatening to expel him if he did not withdraw his accusations against the three directors. But rather than back down, Ruiz-Mateos produced fifteen photocopies of trans: actions involving Rumasa transfers through Nordfinanz Bank, Zurich, for a 'River Invest' account at Union Bank of Switzerland in Geneva. While the state prosecutor's office puzzled over what to do next -- the state prosecutor, Francisco Jimenez Lablanca, was an Opus Dei member -- Opus Dei had the aplomb to deny that it was in any way connected with Ruiz-Mateos's business activities, and in fact countered the bad publicity with an eight-page interview with Tomas Gutierrez Calzada, the regional vicar for Spain, in Epoca. The interview was headed 'The Enemies of Liberty Are Attacking Us'. 'Liberty' in this Opusian usage was interchangeable with 'Church'. The 'enemies' of the Church, it turned out from the next line, was Ruiz-Mateos, because he was 'threatening us with public scandal.' [17]

Realizing he was now well outside of the road, Ruiz-Mateos began to fear for his life. [18] 'Not only am I aware that something could happen to me, I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet. Many Spaniards have died mysteriously for much less and history is plagued with crimes committed in the name of God,' he said in a 1986 interview. [19] Three months previously Michele Sindona had died in a Milan prison after drinking a poisoned cup of coffee, and the incident, like Calvi's murder, was fresh in his mind.

He was freed from house arrest after a first fraud charge was dropped for lack of evidence. But by then his Rumasa empire had been liquidated. The state patrimony office sold Banco Atlantico to an Arab group at a fire-sale price, prompting a Barcelona newspaper to claim the winding up of Rumasa had cost the Spanish taxpayer more than twice the 1,000 million that the public prosecutor alleged Ruiz-Mateos had defrauded from the state. Other charges were still pending.

By this point one had the impression that Felipe Gonzalez would have been happy to see the Rumasa affair buried and forgotten. But Ruiz-Mateos was not going to let that happen. His counter-action against the government claimed 842 million in damages. He put across key points in his case by calling press conferences in front of government buildings and turning up dressed like a pirate or Superman. It was the only way, he said, to keep his case in the public eye.

In June 1989 he obtained temporary immunity from prosecution by being elected to the European parliament. Before he could celebrate his victory, however, he was rushed to hospital and had one metre of his intestines removed as a result of a mesenteric thrombosis. This type of thrombosis, usually fatal, can only result from a vascular obstruction, eating a venomous fish, a spider bite or poison. Ruiz-Mateos went to the Mayo Clinic for post-operatory convalescence. The doctors there considered it likely that he had been poisoned. On the basis of their report, back in Madrid he brought an attempted murder charge against persons unknown.

Spain's Constitutional Court was asked to rule on the legality of the Rumasa expropriation law. It has eleven judges and a president, whose vote counts double. After lengthy consideration, six of the judges voted against the law's legitimacy; five were in favour. The president, Manuel Garcia-Pelayo, then approaching 80 years of age, decided -- after receiving a call from Felipe Gonzalez -- to vote with the minority. Two years later Garda-Pelayo retired to Venezuela. Before dying of a stroke, he stated that in rendering the Rumasa judgement the integrity of the Constitutional Court had been debased.

Ruiz-Mateos appealed the ruling to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg which upheld his claim that the Spanish government had acted unconstitutionally and failed thereafter to accord him a fair trial. But the Strasbourg court said it was not competent to rule on his claim for compensation.

Twelve years after Rumasa's expropriation, Ruiz-Mateos still had not been given his day in court -- a 'day' that some experts feared might last for several years and would be exceedingly embarrassing for Opus Dei. When asked who was responsible for his downfall, he replied, 'I think the same people who organized the coup d'etat also organized the expropriation of Rumasa.'

But who were these 'same people'? I asked.

'Los "Vallses",' he replied. [20]



1. Santiago Aroca, 'The Godfather of Opus and its Strawmen', Tiempo 217, 7 July 1986. (Exchange rate of 190 pesetas to 1.)

2. Ruiz-Mateos Open Letter to Luis Valls Taberner, February 1995.

3. Unpublished memorandum of 2 February 1994 in the files of Kroll Associates, London, and Ruiz-Mateos Open Letter to Luis Valls, February 1995. Luis Valls disputes Ruiz-Marcos's version of the expropriation scenario. While he acknowledges meeting Ruiz-Mateos on many occasions, and notably during 'six or seven lunches', he said the only time they ever discussed Rumasa's problems was in early 1982 at a reception given by King Juan Carlos for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He said Ruiz-Mateos asked him for the name of a good lawyer as he was unhappy with how his solicitors were handling the Banco de Espana probe. Valls gave him one name -- Matias Cortes -- and thought the matter closed.

4. Note in Macias Cortes's agenda for 5 August 1983.

5. 'The Rumasa Affair Soils the Vatican and Opus', Tiempo, Madrid, 1 August 1983.

6. Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos letter to Don Alvaro del Portillo, 31 May 1985.

7. 'Rumasa -- Search and Destroy', The Economist, 16 April 1983

8. Stephen Aris, 'How Marcos Rose and Fell: the End of a Reign in Spain', The Sunday Times, 24 April 1983.

9. 'This is only the start of a very long film', The Financial Times, London, 30 April 1983.

10. WW Finance Memorandum on The Rumasa Group, Geneva 1979, p. 12.

11. Monsignor Donato de Bonis has denied knowing Alberto Jaimes Berti or being in any way aware of the 'Baron' operation.

12. 'Chile's monetarist model starts to come apart'. Latin America Economic Report, 14 January 1977.

13. Memo to the Files of Kroll Associates, London, by Jeffrey Katz, 16 November 1993.

14. Raw, Op. cit., p. 37.

15. Ibid., p. 16.

16. John Cornwell, Op. cit., p. 132.

17. Epoca, Madrid, 11 August 1986.

18. 'Opus Dei in plot to kill me', The Sunday Press, Dublin, 25 May 1986.

19. Phil Davison, 'A brush with death for "Superman",' The Independent, London, 1 June 1993.

20. After Ruiz-Mateos published an open letter to Luis Valls in February 1995, the banker sent the following note to leading Spanish newspaper and magazine publishers:

Ruiz-Mateos has been lying for five years. He has now forged something for the first time: a letter and a signature. Now he is no longer in disguise. Besides, he has started off on a new stage of informative terrorism. Never up to date have his suits and reports succeeded. His accusations are but plain lies. Yet he keeps on playing this game since he is aware that the defendant cannot materially prove he is not guilty. Thanks to such a divertimento, the man in the street becomes confused with [the] accusations on the one part, and the defendant's pleas of not guilty on the other. Ruiz-Mateos is just trying to arouse doubt. Could you make your editors keep a close eye so that they may not be caught unawares by those inventions that the overactive and wicked minds of Ruis-Mateos and his cronies work up?

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