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Enrico Mattei (April 29, 1906 - October 27, 1962) was an Italianmarker public administrator. After World War II he was given the task of dismantling the Italian Petroleum Agency Agip, a state enterprise established by the Fascist regime. Instead Mattei enlarged and reorganized it into the National Fuel Trust Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI). Under his direction ENI negotiated important oil concessions in the Middle East as well as a significant trade agreement with the Soviet Unionmarker which helped break the oligopoly of the 'Seven Sisters' that dominated the mid 20th century oil industry. He also introduced the principle whereby the country that owned exploited oil reserves received 75% of the profits.

Mattei, who became a powerful figure in Italy, was a left-wing Christian Democrat, and a member of parliament from 1948 to 1953. He died in a mysterious plane crash in 1962, likely caused by a bomb in the plane.


Enrico Mattei was born in Acqualagnamarker, in the province of Pesaro and Urbino, Marche, the son of a carabiniere (a member of the Italian national gendarmerie). At the age of 24 he left Marche for Milanmarker, where he worked in various jobs and later joined the Resistenza and became a well known partisan.

Agip and ENI

In 1945, the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CLN - Comitato di LIberazione Nazionale Italian Liberation Front) appointed him to the leadership of Agip, the national oil company created by the Fascists, with instructions to close it as soon as possible. Mattei, instead, worked hard to restructure the company and transform it into one of the nation's most important economic assets.

In 1949 Mattei made an astonishing public announcement: the soil of Northern Italy "was" rich in oil and methane, and Italy would solve all its energy needs using its own resources. Through the Italian press, he then encouraged the idea that the nation (still suffering from the consequences of defeat in war), would soon become rich. Agip's financial value immediately grew in the Stock Exchange markets, and the company (owned by the State, but operating as a private company) became at once solid and important. The reality was a little different: in the territory of Cortemaggioremarker, in the Valley of Pomarker, a certain amount of methane had been found together with a small quantity of oil.

Agip did, however, obtain an exclusive concession for oil exploration within the national territory, and was able to retain the associated profits. Political views were divided: the leftists supporting him, and the conservatives (together with the industrialists), opposing him. At this time Mattei is alleged to have widely used unofficial financial resources of Agip for extensive bribery, especially of politicians and journalists. He used to say of political parties: "I use them like I would use a taxi: I sit in, I pay for the trip, I get out". Agip gained control of hundreds of companies in all economic fields in the country. Mattei paid great attention to the press, and Agip soon took possession of several newspapers and two agencies.

In 1953 a law created the ENI, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi, into which Agip was merged. Mattei was initially its president, then also the administrator and the general director. In practice, Eni was Mattei and Mattei was Eni.

International influence

Mattei's attention turned to the international oil markets. He invented (or at least, used to tell very often) the story of the little cat: "A little cat arrives where a few big dogs are eating in a pot. The dogs attack him and toss him away. We [Italians] are like that little cat, in that pot there is oil for everybody, but someone does not want to let us get close to it."

This kind of fable made Mattei extremely popular in the economically poor Italy of the time, and he gained the popular support that was needed to gain political support. To break the oligopoly of the 'Seven Sisters' (a term he coined to refer to the dominant oil companies of the mid-20th century.), Mattei initiated agreements with the poorest countries of the Middle East and countries of the former soviet bloc as well. He forged agreements with Tunisiamarker and Moroccomarker, to which he offered a 50-50 partnership for extracting their oil, very different from the sort of concessions normally offered by the majors. To Iranmarker and Egyptmarker he additionally offered that the risk involved in prospecting was entirely ENI's: if there was no petrol, the countries would not have to pay one cent. In 1957, with ENI already competing with giants like Esso or Shell, Mattei secretly financed the independence movement against colonialist Francemarker in the Algerian War.

In 1960, after concluding an agreement with the Soviet Union and while negotiating with Chinamarker, Mattei publicly declared that the American monopoly was over. The reaction was initially mild, and he (ENI) was invited to take part in the partition of the prospecting map in the Sahara. However, Mattei made the independence of Algeria a condition of his acceptance. No agreement would be subscribed until that event. As a consequence of his stance, Mattei was considered to have become a target of the French far-right terrorist organization OAS, opposed to Algeria's independence, which began sending him explicit threats.


On October 27, 1962 on a flight from Sicily to the Milan Linate Airportmarker, Mattei's jetplane, a Morane-Saulnier MS-760 "Paris" crashed, in the surroundings of the small village of Bascapèmarker in Lombardy, in the course of a storm. All three men on board were killed: Mattei, his pilot Irnerio Bertuzzi, and the American Time-Life Journalist Wiiliam McHale. The inquiries officially declared that it was an accident. The Italian Minister of Defense, Giulio Andreotti, was responsible for the accident investigation. According to a 2001 TV documentary by Bernhard Pletschinger and Claus Bredenbrock, evidence was immediately destroyed at the crash site. Flight instruments were put into acid. On October 25, 1995, the Italian public service broadcaster RAImarker reported the exhumation of the human remains of Mattei and Bertuzzi. Metal debris deformed by an explosion was found in the bones. There is speculation that the fuse of an explosive device was triggered by the mechanism of the landing gear.

Rumours suggested that the CIA would not mourn his passing. Not trusting the Sifar (Italian secret service), even though it was full of his loyal supporters, Mattei constituted a sort of personal security guard made of former partisans, ENI staff - and he felt protected by them.

Other facts on the crash:
  • When preparing the film The Mattei Affair in 1970, Francesco Rosi asked the journalist Mauro De Mauro to investigate on the last days of Mattei in Sicily. De Mauro soon obtained an audio-tape of his last speech and spent days studying it. De Mauro disappeared eight days after his retrieval of the tape, on September 16, 1970, without leaving a trace. His body was never found.

  • All the Carabinieri and Police investigators who searched for De Mauro, and consequently investigated his presumed kidnapping, were later killed. Among them the general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa.

  • Tommaso Buscetta, the famous mafioso who repented, declared to judge Giovanni Falcone that the De Mauro affair was not a mafia affair. The strange thing is that the confusion created by his disappearance would have "ordinarily" compelled the mafia to get involved, discover those responsible and denounce them, or even worse. Buscetta also suggested that the cause was in De Mauro's investigations on Mattei. Gaetano Iannì, another repented mafioso, had suggested that a special agreement had been achieved between the Cosa Nostra and "some foreigners" for the elimination of Mattei.

  • Admiral Fulvio Martini, later chief of SISMI (military secret service), declared that Mattei's plane had been shot down.


Enrico Mattei is a controversial figure in Italian 20th century history. Some describe him as a sort of paladin, a nationalist, while others point to his hunger for power, and his cold calculating nature. The doubts about his possible murder, however, are more compelling than the theory of a technical accident.

Mattei coined the term "Seven Sisters" to refer to the dominant oil companies of the mid-20th century.

In 2000, the Trans-Mediterranean Pipeline was named after Enrico Mattei.

Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM).

See also


Notes and references

External links

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