LIFE AND DEATH OF A EUROGANGSTER; The mastermind behind the pounds 62m Knightsbridge safe deposit robbery dies in a hail of bullets.
Playboy gangster Valerio Viccei, jailed for the pounds 62 million Knightsbridge safe deposit robbery in London, was machine-gunned on an Italian street.
It is believed the 45-year-old was planning his next hit when he was shot on the lonely dirt track.
Viccei, who was technically still serving his 22-year sentence for the 1987 robbery, was killed as he struggled with a police officer.
He spent just five years behind bars in a British jail before being extradited to Pescara prison where, since 1996, he had lived a high life of fast cars and loose women.
Thanks to an Italian policy of semi-liberty, he was allowed to do as he pleased, as long as he returned to his cell at night.
He claimed to have gone straight in the time he had outside jail, but police believe he was using his free time to organise his next crime.
Police officers became suspicious when they spotted a stolen Lancia Thema on a dirt track in the countryside near Ascoli at around 11.30 yesterday morning.
Viccei and Mafia mobster Antonio Maletesta were standing by the car when the officers stopped and asked them for their documents.
Maletesta ran off, but Viccei pulled out his semi-automatic Magnum 357 handgun. Fearless policeman Enzo Baldini jumped on him and in the struggle both men were shot.
The police officer was hit in the groin by a bullet from Viccei's gun and was last night recovering in hospital after emergency surgery.
But Viccei was killed instantly when a burst of bullets from Baldini's machine gun ripped through him. He was dragged into the car by one of his henchmen and the vehicle sped off. But when his gang realised he was dead, they dumped him out of the speeding car.
Viccei's body was later discovered on a road in Teramo, 100 miles east of Rome.
One of his gang was later captured and another is still being hunted by the police.
It is thought that Viccei and his Mafia friends were planning either a kidnapping or a robbery.
A Teramo police spokesman said: "We found ski masks in the car. We believe they were in the process of planning a serious crime."
Viccei, a silver-haired, sharp-suited figure looked like any other successful businessman in the town of Pescara.
But instead of being locked up in a maximum security jail like most criminals, Viccei was allowed to leave his cell at 7.45am every day to drive to his nearby flat in his pounds 25,000 Volvo S90. At the property he kept his other two cars, an Audi A3 and a Mercedes.
There he would change into one of his many designer suits before heading off to the office where he ran a small translation firm.
Once inside his rented second-floor office in the seaside town, he would check how business was going, make calls, read faxes, go through the post and visit new clients before heading off to his favourite restaurant for lunch.
And, as long as he was back in jail by 10.30pm for lock-up, prison officials were happy.
Viccei was always reluctant to reveal how much his company made. He said recently: "I make enough to get by. I pay my taxes and national insurance.
"All the bills are paid on time. I cover the rent, telephone and cleaner in good time and am never late. I have a little money left over each month which helps pay my restaurant bills and run my cars but, in spite of all this, there is one thing I don't have - my freedom.
"I have to give the prison - or the hotel as I call it - a little something for my bed but not breakfast as the food is awful.
"I like to look and dress well and I eat the best food. If you have the money there's no point looking at it in the bank collecting dust, you may as well appreciate it." And speaking of what he called his new life, he added: "I am as you would say, in Britain, going straight now."
Viccei, whose father and brother are both lawyers, turned to robbery after a spell as a right-wing terrorist, which included blowing up a local electricity power station when he was just 17.
Nicknamed The Wolf, he got into trouble as a student when he became involved in right-wing terrorist groups in Italy.
They carried out a number of bombings and shootings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Viccei said: "For a short time I was involved in politics, but I soon realised it wasn't worth it and just started robbing banks. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase with the police.
And he wasn't afraid to use violence. He once told a photographer who was taking pictures of him with a telescopic lens: "You use that on your camera, I use it on my rifle. Guns are part of the job."
He once killed a man - a "psychopathic" fellow prisoner - but claimed it was self-defence and was acquitted.
In 1985, he arrived in London while on the run from Italian police after a string of high-profile bank robberies which netted hundreds of thousands of pounds.
He rented a smart flat in St John's Wood and soon had a string of glamorous blondes in tow, dined at the best restaurants and drove around the city in a gleaming Ferrari.
He funded his playboy lifestyle by doing what he knew best - robbing banks. He was responsible for the first successful raid on the Queen's bank, Coutts.
But Viccei really hit the headlines in 1987 when he and his five-man gang raided the Knightsbridge safe deposit centre and escaped with an estimated pounds 62 million after breaking into more than 120 strongboxes.
The gang spent a weekend inside the safe deposit centre, opposite Harrods, and got away with a haul of gold, gems and priceless goods.
The haul was so vast that he filled his bath with banknotes and glittering jewels covered the floor of his flat in Hampstead, North London.
One diamond alone was worth over pounds 4 million.
But the true value of the haul was never known as more than 30 keyholders failed to come forward. He was arrested at his favourite London hotel, Whites, after police discovered his fingerprint on one of the boxes and in 1989 at the Old Bailey he was sentenced to 22 years jail.
In a recent British TV documentary, Viccei was filmed in Italy boasting about his fast lifestyle and his many sexual conquests, which included Lady Bienvenida Buck.
She was the glamorous blonde Spanish mistress whose kiss-and-tell confession ended the career of Britain's military chief.
News of her affair with Defence Chief of Staff Sir Peter Harding, who commanded the RAF's combat operations in the Gulf War, sent shockwaves around the establishment.
She had a passionate affair with Viccei and they were often seen arm-in-arm in London's top nightclubs and restaurants.
But the good life came to an abrupt end for Viccei when he was caught and jailed for the Knightsbridge raid.
And, even then, Lady Buck regularly visited him in maximum-security Parkhurst Prison, on the Isle of Wight.
She even talked the man she later married into helping switch her former lover to a jail in his Italian homeland.
Her former husband, Tory MP Sir Antony Buck, said: "Viccei spent the abundant time he had on his hands after being arrested writing to her.
"I never met him, but I contacted the Home Office to see about him being repatriated."
Although he would boast of his affair with the woman who became the wife of Tory MP Sir Anthony Buck, Viccei repaid her loyalty by staying silent over their relationship - even in his memoirs.
In his book, arrogant Viccei thanked the lawyers and judges who had helped his repatriation to Italy.
He added: "The same is true of Sir Antony and Lady Bienvenida Buck: she, in particular, is a good friend whose loyalty has not wavered, regardless of possible embarrassment and criticism."
Viccei, who would have been due for parole in 2003, was proud of his criminal expertise.
He said: "The best job I did without question was Knightsbridge - it was magic, wonderful, when I saw all that money and jewellery I really thought I'd done it.
"A third of the people never came forward to claim what was in those boxes. If you had a stash of cocaine in there would you tell the police it was missing?" When asked about the missing millions, he simply smirked and shrugged his shoulders.
But he is believed to have secreted a huge stash of the stolen money and valuables in bank accounts and safety deposit boxes throughout the world.
He even wrote to the police chief who trapped him - wishing he could be at the auction of unclaimed loot.
Viccei wrote to Detective Inspector Richard Leach from his Italian jail: "If I had my way I would be there."
And he added that he would have bid for a gold shotgun pendant "as a memento".
Born to a respectable middle-class Italian family in a fashionable suburb. His father and brother were both lawyers.
Viccei became a right-wing terrorist when he blew up a local electricity power station when he was just 17.
Nicknamed The Wolf, he got into trouble as a student when he carried out a number of bombings and shootings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Arrived in London and rented a smart flat in St John's Wood and soon had a string of glamorous blondes in tow, dined at the best restaurants and drove a gleaming Ferrari.
But his champagne lifestyle was paid for after a string of bank robberies in Italy.
He masterminded Britain's biggest robbery, the pounds 62million Knightsbridge safe deposit raid.
But, despite the widespread publicity the raid attracted, more than a third of people who owned the safety deposit boxes refused to come forward.
Viccei is sentenced to 22 year for masterminding the raid. But he swapped a cell at Parkhurst for a life of virtual freedom under the Italian prison system when he was extradited to his homeland. He was free during the day but slept in the prison at night.
Viccei's life of crime ends in a bloody hail of bullets when he is gunned down in an Italian street while on day release from prison.
Police suspected he was planning another spectacular raid.
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Apr 19, 2000|
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