Italy: A Grand Master's Conspiracy

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The government falls over an astonishing Masonic cabal

Postwar Italian governments have fallen apart-for almost every conceivable reason, from failed budget votes (1964) to squabbles over abortion reform (1976) to Communist bids for power (1978). Even so, the most inventive Italian citizen would be hard pressed to dream up the bizarre scandal that rocked the country last week and toppled the four-party coalition government of Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani. Some of the leading, members of a secret Masonic group—which allegedly involved nearly 1,000 respected figures of the Italian Establishment, including members of Forlani's own Cabinet—were accused by the judiciary of such offenses as espionage, tax fraud, illegal currency dealings and even of planning to undermine the country's parliamentary system and form "a state within a state."

Though the accusations were still unproved and could be the result of some monstrous hoax, the effects were devastating. They began with the abrupt resignation of Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti after he was said to be associated with the secret group, and concluded three days later with Forlani handing in his own resignation to President Sandro Pertini at the Quirinal Palace. It left Pertini with the task of either finding a potential Prime Minister capable of forming a new government—the 41st since 1946—or calling unwanted early elections.

Rumors of the scandal finally prompted Forlani himself to detonate the explosion. He released a card file listing the names of 963 members in the secret Masonic lodge designated "P2" (the P standing for "Propaganda"). The list had been found at the Arezzo villa of Licio Gelli, 62, a seemingly innocuous Tuscan-born businessman. Police carted out more than 1,000 letters, documents, diaries and ledgers in a dawn raid. Among the papers were confidential police intelligence reports from the 1960s that the government had ordered destroyed in 1974. Said an investigator: "The documents have a potential for blackmail in political, economic and journalistic circles. Licio Gelli had his hand in everything."

The list of alleged P2 members read like an honor roll of Italy. Justice Minister Sarti was listed only as a candidate for lodge membership, but two other Cabinet members—Labor Minister Franco Foschi and Foreign Trade Minister Enrico Manca—were listed as full members. So were such military figures as Admiral Giovanni Torrisi, the Defense Chief of Staff; General Giulio Grassini, chief of the Interior Ministry's secret intelligence service; and General Giuseppe Santovito, head of the Military Information and Security Service. Financiers included a top official of the Banco di Roma, Italy's third largest bank, and a former director-general of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, the country's largest.

Most of the individuals named indignantly denied any connection with P2. Of the 30 parliamentarians on the list, only Fabrizio Cicchitto, a director of the Socialist Party, admitted his membership.

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