Ecco Le Marche

It is one of Italy’s most mysterious crimes: the death of Enrico Mattei, one of the most influential business bosses in Italy in the 1950s. He made a significant contribution to the Italian economic miracle after the war and is as famous as the business greats such as Giovanni Agnelli (Fiat) and Camillo Olivetti (Olivetti).

Elke gathered some info, after visiting an exhibition in Acqualagna in 2022 on the 60th anniversary of his death.

Mattei was born in Acqualagna in 1906 as the son of a simple policeman and moved with his family to Matelica in 1919, where he was buried after his death. In both places, Mattei is highly revered and there are squares and streets dedicated to him throughout Le Marche, indeed throughout Italy. In Algeria there is even an entire public park dedicated to him!

At war with Enrico Mattei

In the 1930s, Mattei founded a chemical company in Milan that supplied the Italian army. During World War II he joined the Resistance partisans and became head of the Catholic resistance. All of this makes him the ideal candidate for the ruling DC (Christian Democratic Party) to liquidate the state-owned company AGIP, which was founded by fascists, after the war.

Source Wikimedia Commons

But Mattei goes his own way (and will do so again and again): in 1949 he declared that significant amounts of petroleum and methane had been discovered in the Po Valley. This was the chance to make Italy independent in terms of energy policy! And so he calls for the company to be expanded further. The mineral resources of the Po Valley later turned out to be hardly worth mentioning, but that was no longer important.

In 1953, Mattei founded ENI, the Italian state-owned energy company, and confidently stood up to the Seven Sisters, i.e. the most powerful oil companies in the world at the time (Exxon, Shell, BP, Mobil, Chevron, Gulf Oil and Texaco).

aus wikimedia commons

Source: wikimedia commons (

In order to be independent, he initially offered contracts for oil exploration and production to poorer or smaller states in the Middle East, Africa and the Eastern Bloc. With significantly better conditions than the big ones in the oil industry! He offers some countries a 50% stake, which is unusual in the industry, or that they would not have to contribute to the costs of exploration if it were not successful. He went to Algeria and supports it in its fight for independence against France, which may be his downfall. But more on that later…

In the 1950s, “his” company (which is actually a state-owned company) took control of hundreds of companies, including newspapers and chemical companies. Mattei is now not only entrepreneurial, but also diplomatic through business with many countries and meets the powerful of the world. The fact that he becomes so powerful could be dangerous for him later. More on that later…

The mysterious death of Mattei.

Despite all the precautionary measures, the year 1962 was his downfall. Mattei has now stepped on the toes of many and there have been a number of scandals and lawsuits, among other things because it is suspected that he does not take the law seriously and bribes politicians. At the beginning of 1962, his pilot discovered sabotage on the plane. From now on, Mattei uses two identical aircraft and always decides at short notice which one he will fly with. He now only relies on his own security service made up of former partisans and ENI employees.

Nevertheless, his plane crashed on October 27, 1962, just outside Milan, with him, his experienced pilot and an American journalist on board. What is strange is that the wreckage is removed and cleaned very quickly and the identical sister aircraft is sold in individual parts to the USA. This makes a serious investigation into the crash almost impossible. As a result, the whole case is declared an accident!


Years later, doubts about this version continue to arise and further deaths follow:

The internationally renowned director Francesco Rosi commissions the journalist Mauro de Mauro to research his film “The Enrico Mattei Case”. Just a few days after de Mauro reported an important discovery in the case, he disappeared without a trace. Years later, Mafia dropout Tommaso Buscetta says that de Mauro was killed by the Cosa Nostra. However, he also says that it was not a mafia affair, but a contract killing for “some foreigners.” Several police officers investigating de Mauro’s disappearance are also murdered.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last novel before his murder (which was also never clearly solved) also deals with the topic of oil and is called Petrolio. Apparently there was a chapter about the Mattei case, but it no longer appears in the manuscript, which is published posthumously. Did Pasolini’s murderers come from the same background as Mattei’s?

Theories about Enrico Mattei’s crash:

Over time, many theories have been developed about the crash, some more and some less conspiratorial. Here are some of the most popular:

  • The French secret service, or the French right-wing extremist organization OAS, were behind the crash because Mattei supported Algeria in its fight for independence against France.
  • The mafia itself was behind it because Mattei also became too powerful for the mafia, especially in Sicily, where he promised jobs and prosperity.
  • “The” Americans, either the CIA, the American “Cosa Nostra” branch or American corporations, gave the order to murder Mattei because he was a thorn in the side of the predominantly American oil companies.
  • There were also enough politicians for whom Mattei became too powerful…
  • And finally, there are speculations about private motives: for example, Eugenio Cefis, Mattei’s partisan friend, who becomes his successor at ENI, or Giuseppe Casero, who is involved in the investigation into the plane crash and later marries Margherita Paulas, Mattei’s widow.

But how likely are the private motives given the strange inconsistencies? What do you think?

The ENI today.

We now know that fossil fuels play a large role in CO2 emissions and climate change, even though Mattei was revered as a hero at the time as head of ENI. But the case also makes it clear that the oil business has always been a bloody business.

The former state-owned company ENI is now listed on the stock exchange and still holds a significant share of the Italian oil and gas market. Gas stations like AGIP and IP are omnipresent in Italy and belong to the ENI group. There is a large refinery near Falconara Marittima in the Marche:

ENI Refineries near Falconara Marittima in the Marken

Tips on the topic:

  • The film “The Mattei Case” by Francesco Rosi from 1972. There is a YouTube version with English subtitles.
  • Enrico Mattei’s birthplace is in Acqualagna (right next to the truffle museum), but can apparently only be visited by appointment. You can find the phone number on the website.
  • The Enrico Mattei Museum in Matelica, which is looked after by his niece, Rosy Mattei, has many exhibits from his life. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get an appointment there in the winter, even though it was actually open. At the end, Rosy Mattei told me that entry was free, but she would expect us to either buy the book about Mattei or donate 25 EUR. That was too skectchy for me. Maybe I’ll try again in the summer during regular opening hours.


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