Rupert Cornwell, an award-winning British journalist who covered financial scandals at the Vatican, the fall of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 terrorist attacks and who was the half brother of renowned spy novelist John le Carré, died March 31 at a Washington hospital. He was 71.
The cause was colon cancer, said his wife, Susan Cornwell, a journalist with Reuters.
Cornwell began his career in Europe with the Financial Times, then joined the London-based Independent newspaper at its founding in 1986 as its Moscow correspondent.
“It was an exciting and hopeful time,” he wrote March 2 in one of his final columns.
Instead of a revival of the Soviet Union, Cornwell found himself chronicling its collapse. His coverage won him Britain’s Foreign Correspondent of the Year award in 1989.
His approach, combining deeply sourced reporting with a confident analytical voice, helped define the tone of the fledgling Independent.
In 1991, Cornwell came to Washington for the first of two stints for the Independent. After four years in London from 1997 to 2001, he returned to Washington, where he spent the rest of his career.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cornwell worked at breakneck speed to compose a 2,200-word story summarizing the attack and its potential reverberations in the coming years.
“You struggle for historical comparison,” he wrote. “The closest surely, in the American experience, was Pearl Harbor in 1941, another sneak attack that sent thousands to their death, and briefly overwhelmed those who had to cope with it.”
When Cornwell was based in Rome for the Financial Times, he happened on a case of international intrigue involving the body of Italy’s most powerful private banker, Roberto Calvi.
In a 1983 book, “God’s Banker,” Cornwell explored the financial scandal surrounding Calvi’s bank, which had deep links to the Vatican and Italian political figures and was billions of dollars in debt.
His first marriage, to Angela Doria, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 29 years, the former Susan Smith; sons Sean and Stas Cornwell; a sister, Charlotte Cornwell; half brothers David Cornwell (le Carré) and Tony Cornwell; and two granddaughters.