San Jose Mercury News
May 24, 1981 - p. 7A
Italy's justice minister
quits in lodge spy scandal
By Charles Ridley
United Press International
ROME Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti resigned Saturday, the government's first casualty of a murky Italian scandal involving a Masonic lodge whose grand master has been charged with espionage.
Two other ministers whose names were among 962 on a list of lodge members and contacts were expected to follow Sarti out of office.
The scandal centers on the "P2" Masonic lodge in Rome and its grand master, Licio Gelli, whose arrest on spy charges was ordered Friday along with that of Col. Antonio Viezzer, a former official of a defunct military intelligence organization. Gelli is believed to be in Argentina.
Sarti presented his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani, whose 7-month-old government is faced with another crises over the scandal.
In the letter, details of which were leaked to the press, Sarti denied being a member of the lodge but admitted knowing Gelli.
Sarti said he was resigning to protect his ministry and to be free to take legal action against those who had been carrying out "a slanderous, unmotivated campaign against me."
He said his contact with the Masons took place years ago and was "in the context of an attempt to bring about a rapprochment between cultural areas, lay, Catholic and socialist. I have never taken any oath other than the one I made to the head of state as a minister of the republic," Sarti, a Christian Democrat, said.
Since the scandal first made headlines last week, there has been speculation among politicians and the Italian press about the activities of Gelli and his Masonic lodge. The main accusation was that it acted as a power within the state's power.
Forlani on Wednesday ordered publication of the 962 names on a list of lodge members or contacts found in Gelli's villa at Arezzo, near Florence.
Besides the names of Sarti, the list included Labor Minister Enrico Manca, prominent politicians, secret service chiefs, army generals, finance police, officials and newspaper editors.
Masonic lodges are not illegal in Italy, but the "P2" lodge was accused by government opponents of being a secret organization, which are barred under Italy's constitution.