Enrico Mattei (April 29,
1906 - October 27, 1962) was an Italian public
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
(ENI). Under his direction
ENI negotiated important oil concessions in the Middle East as well
as a significant trade agreement with the Soviet Union which helped break the oligopoly of the 'Seven Sisters' that dominated
the mid 20th century oil
He also introduced the principle whereby the
country that owned exploited oil
received 75% of the profits.
Mattei, who became a powerful figure in Italy, was a left-wing
, 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
Mattei was born in Acqualagna, in the province of Pesaro and Urbino,
Marche, the son of a carabiniere (a member of the Italian
At the age
of 24 he left Marche for Milan, 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
(CLN - Comitato di LIberazione Nazionale Italian
Liberation Front) appointed him to the leadership of Agip, the
company created by the
, 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
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
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.
reality was a little different: in the territory of Cortemaggiore, in the Valley of Po, a certain
amount of methane had been found together with a small quantity of
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
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.
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
' (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
and countries of the former soviet
as well. He forged agreements with Tunisia and Morocco, 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 Iran and Egypt 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 France in the
after concluding an agreement with the Soviet Union and while
negotiating with China, 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
October 27, 1962 on a flight from Sicily to the Milan Linate
Airport, Mattei's jetplane, a Morane-Saulnier MS-760 "Paris"
crashed, in the surroundings of the small village of Bascapè 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
, was responsible
for the accident investigation. According to a 2001 TV documentary
by Bernhard Pletschinger
, evidence was
immediately destroyed at the crash site. Flight instruments were
put into acid. On October 25, 1995, the Italian public
service broadcaster RAI 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
by the mechanism of the landing gear.
Rumours suggested that the CIA
would not mourn
his passing. Not trusting the Sifar
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
- 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
- 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).
Notes and references