New York Times
May 24, 1981 - front page

Italian Elite Embroiled in a Scandal

Special to The New York Times

    ROME, May 23 — Italy's Justice Minister, Adolfo Sarti, resigned today following reports linking him to a powerful, secret Masonic lodge that has been implicated in a variety of criminal activities.
    The growing scandal surrounding the lodge has shaken the coalition Government of Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani and has dwarfed all other scandals that Italy has endured in the last 30 years.
    The scandal, which had been simmering for months, broke open Thursday when Mr. Forlani, on the advice of investigating magistrates in Milan, made public a list of 953 names of reported members of the lodge, called Propaganda Due, or P-2. The list included Cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, judges, army and police generals, bankers, journalists and other figures in the Italian Establishment.
    Mr. Sarti, a Christian Democrat, denied having been a member of the lodge, but documents found in the offices and country villa of Licio Gelli, the lodge's grandmaster, reportedly show that he applied for membership.
    Yesterday Mr. Gelli, who is in hiding, apparently abroad, was indicted in absentia on charges of spying for Argentina. He is understood to hold Argentine as well as Italian nationality.
    Col. Antonio Viezzer, a member of the lodge and former head of SID, a now dissolved government intelligence organization, was arrested yesterday on the same charges placed against Mr. Gelli.
    The Forlani Government and the major political parties have not yet decided what sanctions, if any, they will take against military and civilian officials belonging to the lodge, whose members, according to the police, had sworn ultimate allegiance to their grandmaster rather than to the nation.
    In a report to the Government, the Milan magistrates wrote that "Gelli had constructed a very real state within the state," using blackmail, favors, promises of advancement and bribes.
    "Lodge P-2 is a secret sect that has combined business and politics with the intention of destroying the constitutional order of the country and of transforming the parliamentary system into a presidential system," the magistrates said.
    "Gelli's strategy has been to bring under his control a large number of powerful and highly placed persons and thus to break down, for the first time in Italian history, the separation between political, administrative, military and economic spheres," they said.

Powerful Banker Arrested

    One of Italy's most powerful bankers, Roberto Calvi, a member of the lodge and longtime friend of Mr. Gelli, was arrested Wednesday on charges of having used his banks for illegally exporting huge sums of money and of having been involved, with Mr. Gelli, in the fake kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the bankrupt financier who sought to avoid trial in New York by fleeing to Europe.
    Mr. Calvi is president of Banco Ambrosiano and of La Centrale Finanziaria, a financial institution. Six members of the board of La Centrale were arrested at the same time, among them Carlo Bonomi, the head of the Invest Financial Company, one of the four largest groups of its kind in the country.
    The arrest of Mr. Calvi and his associates "decapitated" the financial Establishment of Milan, a journalist said. Mr. Calvi's La Centrale had recently bought more than 40 percent of the Rizzoli publishing group, which owns Corriere della Sera, a leading newspaper.

Corriere Editor Denies Report

    The name of Franco Di Bella, editor in chief of Corriere, was on the list of reported members of the lodge. Mr. Di Bella, in a meeting with the paper's news staff, denied that he was a member but said Mr. Gelli, the lodge grandmaster, had approached him on several occasions and had once asked him to dismiss one of the paper's leading writers. Mr. Di Bella said he had rejected the suggestion.
    Mr. Calvi's involvement in the Sindona affair and in allegedly illegal money transfers came to light in documents seized by the police in Mr. Gelli's house in Arezzo, Tuscany, last March, according to police reports.
    This in turn led to the resignation of Ugo Zilletti as acting head of the Supreme Council of Magistrates, which is responsible for appointments, promotions and transfers of judges, prosecutors and other legal officers. Mr. Zilletti resigned in the wake of allegations that he improperly helped Mr. Calvi get back his passport after it had been confiscated by the investigating magistrates.

Jailed General on List

    Among the generals whose name appeared on the list of reported members of the lodge is Raffaele Giudice, the former commander of the Finance Guard the paramilitary force specializing in border control and antismuggling operations General Giudice is in jail in connection with a huge petroleum tax scandal that came to light last fall, when it was discovered that more than $2 billion from Italian tax revenues had been diverted into private pockets and spirited abroad.
    Also on the list are about 20 officers of the Carabinieri, the prestigious paramilitary police corps. Gen. Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, one of the ranking Carabinieri officers, was listed as a candidate for membership who had not been admitted. He has been quoted as telling investigators that he applied for membership in the hope of finding out if any of his men were in the lodge.
    Gen. Giovanni Grassini, the chief of SISDE, the secret intelligence and security service of the Interior Ministry, and Gen. Giuseppe Santovito, the head of SISME, the security unit of the Defense Ministry, were also on the list.
    Labor Minister Franco Foschi, a Christian Democrat, and Foreign Trade Minister Enrico Manca were listed as members but have denied that they had joined.

50 Deny Being Members

    More than 50 others — including Pietro Longo, the Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, several journalists and members of Parliament — denied being members of the lodge, although their names were on Mr. Gelli's lists.
    Mr. Gelli, an industrialist, joined a Masonic lodge in 1963 in Frosinone south of Rome and a short time later organized Lodge P-2, apparently as an elite organization intended to reach much deeper into the Italian Establishment than any of the other lodges.
    Italy has about 550 Masonic lodges. Membership is estimated at 15,000, including many Roman Catholics. But Flaminio Piccoli, the Secretary of the church-connected Christian Democratic Party, said a few days ago that membership in a Masonic lodge was incompatible with being a Christian Democrat because "the Masons are a force that attacks the church."