Processo Banca Romana, illustrazione tratta da La tribuna illustrata n. 19 del 6.5.1894


In 1860, after the unification of Italy, there was a need for a reorganization of the banking system that was fragmented due to the many state entities present on the peninsula before its reunification. Cavour, in the short term in which he survived the unification of Italy, tried to unify the various issuing banks, aware of the dangers of the many entities that had this faculty. He was hindered by the various economic forces and local politicians who did not want to lose their acquired privileges. Despite the opposition, the draft law, governing the issuing institutions, was approved.

A myriad of issuing bank were before unification of the Country. The Kingdom of Sardinia had the Banca Nazionale degli Stati Sardi the issuing institution. The Banca Nazionale Austriaca in Vienna was active in Lombardo-Veneto. The Pontifical State used the Banca dello Stato Pontificio, which was later joined the Banca delle 4 Legazioni. The Kingdom of Sicily this side Lighthouse (Kingdom of Naples) had the Banco delle Due Sicilie as the issuing institution, which then took the name of Banco di Napoli. The Kingdom of Sicily beyond the Lighthouse (Kingdom of Sicily) had a reference to the Banco dei Reali Domini, then Banco di Sicilia, owned by the Banco di Napoli. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany took advantage of the Banca Nazionale della Toscana and the Banca Toscana di Credito. The Duchy of Parma was served by the Banca di Parma.

This list was not exhaustive as many banks used to issue arbitrarily banknotes, in some cases in the form of money order, bill of exchange or exchange tickets.

After the unification of Italy was completed, the issuing banks were six in accordance with the provisions of Cavour’s law:
Banca Nazionale del Regno d’Italia, born of the union of the Banca Nazionale degli Stati Sardi with the Banca di Parma, the Banca delle 4 Legazioni and the Stabilimento Mercantile di Venezia which, created behind the Veneto’s annexation to Italy, was not operational, the Banca Nazionale was the most important issuing bank,
Banco di Napoli,
Banco di Sicilia,
Banca Nazionale della Toscana,
Banca Toscana di Credito.
The Banca Romana di Credito, formerly Banca dello Stato Pontificio, was united to these after the Porta Pia Breach.

Surveillance was not regulated of the banking system. Political power, in the person of the Prime Minister or the Treasury Secretary, exercised control over the banks in an extemporaneous way. Coming to light facts or suspicions they passed an intervention. The good performance of the emissions system was delegated to banking institutions and the honesty of the managers of these institutes, despite the gossip and suspicions about the opaque activities of some of these banks.

Monetary circulation was suffering of numerous issuing banks. The banknotes of the various banks were not all well received. In general, the banknotes, issued by the Banca Nazionale del Regno d’Italia, had a good reception throughout the Country because this institute was present with numerous branches in all regions. The emissions of other institutes had circulation mostly regional.

In 1889 the member of the parliament Giovanni Nicotera, one of the three hundred Sapri heroes led by Carlo Pisacane, wanted the director of the Banco di Napoli, Girolamo Giusso, to be ousted of the institution. His party colleague Francesco Miceli, Minister of Industry, urged by Prime Minister Francesco Crispi, decided an inspection of the Neapolitan institute, to check any irregularities and force the Director-General to resign. The inspector was Giacomo Alvisi, President of the Corte dei Conti. He was joined in this task by ministerial officials Antonio Monzilli and Gustavo Biagini. The inspection was extended to all six issuing banks, in order not to create suspicions and to overcome any political opposition.

Inspection at the Banco di Napoli did not reveal particular irregularities and it closed positively. His General Manager, Girolamo Giusso, therefore did not have to resign as Mr. Nicotera and Minister Miceli had hoped. The inspection at the Banca Romana di Credito showed to the serious irregularities. 113 million of banknotes were printed instead of 60 million authorized. The excess banknotes had been produced, according to official motivation, to replace the worn-out banknotes that had to be destroyed. There was no trace of the destruction of the same. In practice, banknotes had been issued duplicating serial numbers already in circulation. These abusive emissions served to cover the precarious financial situation of the bank caused by credits that were granted too easily and never returned. These credits, made mostly to builders but not limited, had been used in the construction of buildings in Rome in the new residential quarters destined for the capital’s bourgeoisie. Many of the new apartments were left unsold because of the real estate crisis of those years.

Minister Miceli was made aware of the serious situation by the official Biagini, who did not retreat from his account even in the presence of warning and false accusations that was regarded him. Biagini delivered a copy of the report to Senator Alvisi, to take refuge from every eventuality.

The Banca Romana Governor, Bernardo Tanlongo, was summoned by the Minister. He had to admit the irregularity, faced with the evidence of the facts, with the notes signed by himself and the general cashier of the bank, Lazzaroni. The Governor hastened to assure the minister by stating that he had already made arrangements for a loan with the Banca Nazionale del Regno d’Italia to cover the total of the registered found short. The loan was not enough to completely cover the abusive emissions. Tanlongo registered a series of fictitious current accounts for a total balance of 6 million to find, only in appearance, the amount needed to survive the bank. The inspection report, drawn up by Biagini, was kept confidential.

Despite the secret to the report, rumors of the Banca Romana disaster hit the parliament, where the Left had long submitted a bill for the creation of the Banca d’Italia to entrust banknote issuance. Giovanni Giolitti, Treasury Secretary, was forced to order a second inspection at the Banca Romana to verify the state of progress of the institution’s rehabilitation. The results of the audit revealed the creation of false accounts. The scandal was covered with a more favorable report drafted by the minister Antonio Monzilli.

Senator Alvisi, who was seriously ill, delivered the first inspection report, sent him from Biagini, to his colleague and friend Senator Leo Wollemborg, with the commitment to divulge its after her death. The senator, aware the seriousness of the situation, after Alvisi’s death passed the file to the director of the Giornale degli Economisti, Maffeo Pantaleoni, so that the same was published. On the evening before the release of the newspaper, on December 10, 1892, at 10pm, Pantaleoni met deputy Napoleone Colajanni in parliament and he downloaded him on the situation.

The following day, Napoleone Colajanni stood up in the hall of parliament and he told everything was aware at the end of the discussion on a bill which provided for an extension of six years the forced issue of banknotes by the six central banks. He denounced the fraud of Governor of the Banca Romana Bernardo Tanlongo, of Chief-cashier Lazzarini and Chief auditor Prince Torlonia. That bank was all fake or cheating: abusive emissions, a lot of bills of exchange to which the expiration date was altered in years to come, false current account. Even the three keys of the treasure, which had to be owned by three different bank executives, were in the sole governor’s availability. Night-time Tanlongo and his son Peter printed signatures on banknotes with false stamps in the cellar of their home.

It was also reported that among the debtors insolvent of Institute, as well as be the same Tanlongo and Prince Torlonia for a considerable sum, it was attended by numerous politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, executives of ministries, lobbyists.

The most famous personalities involved in the scandal were King Umberto I, journalist Rocco De Zerbi and member of Parliament Giovanni Giolitti.

It came to light that Tanlongo had loaned huge sums at King Umberto I without any financial justification. Money that, it seems, were deposited in a secret fund to finance the king’s loving escapees, among which the most expensive was which with Duchess Litta Visconti Arese. These sums were not even mentioned in the proceedings of the next trial to prevent the Real Home from being involved.

Rocco De Zerbi had been a Garibaldi’s follower who was later engaged in the Italian army, earning a gold medal for the capture of the Brigand Carmine Crocco. He had become one of the most well-known and followed journalists, founder of the newspaper “Il Piccolo” in Naples. He got half a million lire to orchestrate a media campaign to cover the scandal responsibilities by Tanlongo, in addition to work in favor of Banca Romana in the parliamentary committee of banking reform of which he was secretary.

A dossier of documents, including even love letters of the second wife of Francesco Crispi addressed to her butler, was sold by Alberto Lanti and a seamstress to a ministry official who was dismissed following the scandal. Alberto Lanti was the son of Achille Lanti, Crispi’s butler, lover of his wife, Lina Barbagallo. The butler had died in mysterious circumstances. Giovanni Giolitti, involved in the scandal of the Banca Romana, and forced to resign as a minister by the head of government Francesco Crispi, came into possession of the dossier and, after a speech to the Parliament where he claimed his honesty, he deposited the documents on the table of the Presidency. The dossier was entrusted to a commission and the content was made known to the assembly after it had been cleansed by the private correspondence between the wife of Crispi and her butler.

In January 1893, the judiciary had to issue a lot of arrest warrants. Tanlongo, father and son, Lazzarini and his nephew Michele, Torlonia and Monzilli were locked in prison. In order to avoid the arrest, Tanlongo was pretending to be Senator of the Kingdom, but it was denied by the Senate’s chairman, as Tanlongo’s nomination proposal had never been ratified by the king. A few days later, the general manager of Banco di Napoli, Vincenzo Cuciniello, was also arrested, because involved with the Banca Romana fraud. Cuciniello tried to avoid arrest and went on the run with disguise as a priest. Bernardo Tanlongo involved prominent political men in interrogation, who had benefited from large loans never returned. Heads of government, ministers and parliamentarians were involved in scandal. In this respect there was the testimony of the police officer Ferdinando Montalto, who despite being threatened, did not hesitate to tell what he had witnessed. A myriad of documents was found in the Tanlongo home search and at the bank’s offices on which official Senate and Chamber stamps, other various ministries, appeared. Other documents were signed by politicians. At the end of the search, Montanto closed all of these documents in two huge parcels to be sealed and sent to the judiciary. Montalto was invited by his superior to go home, due to late hour. The next morning, he went to the bank’s offices to collect the parcels, found only two small files, closed and sealed. All the documents that led to political men had disappeared. Montalto signed reports under threat of serious retaliation.

Emanuele Notarbartolo was Governor of the Banco di Sicilia since 1876. He had the task of restoring the institute of the many outstanding loans. He was subjected to serious threats. He was also kidnapped in April 1881 and for his release a ransom was paid. Notarbartolo was not intimidate and he acted for the repayment of claims, also using legal procedures against politicians and authorities failing. The governor of the Banco di Sicilia was summoned by the Roman instructors in the Banca Romana’s investigation to testify of events involving Sicilian political figures. On Jan. 1, 1893, when he was on a train to reach Rome, Notarbartolo was silenced forever, he was killed by 23 stabs by Matteo Filippello and Giuseppe Fontana, two little malevolent ones related to “cosa nostra”. Raffaele Palizzolo, deputy and administrator of the Banco di Sicilia, was accused of being the mandator in Notarbartolo’s killing. It was acquitted by the Court of Appeal for lack of evidence.

The Banca Romana process, which saw only Tanlongo and his accomplices involved, carried out a plethora of political and civilian personalities despite all accusations and accumulated evidence. The judiciary, which was considered subservient to political power like the press at that time showed, probably realized that real justice would have led to the decapitation of the main state institutions, beginning with the government and the parliament. But the judges did not punish anyone who had materially acted. They were all acquitted, beginning with Governor Tanlongo, who personally did not have any funds. It turned out that he had unlawfully benefited from only 4000 lire, today about 16,000 euros.

The Banca Romana affair created parliamentary bases for the approval of the law establishing the Banca d’Italia in 1893. The only banks authorized to issue banknotes were the Banca d’Italia, the Banco di Napoli and the Banco di Sicilia. The Banca d’Italia did not have supervisory powers over the banking system. Other financial scandals were needed because in 1926 a new law regulating the Italian banking system was approved. The Banca d’Italia was invested in Central Bank functions with oversight and regulation of the country’s financial system only with the new law. It was also established that the same was the only bank authorized to issue banknotes.

The banking law of 1926, followed in the same year by some decrees, was the first step in creating a modern credit system in Italy, similar to the banking systems of other European states.

(Picture at the top: Processo Banca Romana, illustrazione tratta da La tribuna illustrata n. 19 del 6.5.1894)