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Shadowy masonic figure implicated in Italy's darkest days dead at 96

Licio Gelli, a masonic grand master implicated in some of the darkest chapters of Italy's post-war history and one of the worst scandals to rock the Vatican, has died at the age of 96.

Gelli, a fascist sympathiser who was the founder and leader of of the notorious P2 masonic lodge, passed away on Tuesday evening at his villa in Arezzo, Tuscany, his family said, according to local media.

P2, or Propaganda Due, was an influential secret network that counted politicians, judges, bankers and senior military figures amongst its members.

Its tentacles stretched throughout the upper echelons of the Italian establishment, although an attempt to have its members jailed for political conspiracy and attempting to destabilise the state finally failed in 1994.

It is best known internationally for having been at the heart of a murder mystery involving both the mafia and the Vatican which centered the body of "God's banker" Roberto Calvi being found hanging beneath London's Blackfriars bridge in 1982.

Despite being outlawed in 1981, the lodge was later shown to have been involved in a major 1990s political corruption scandal known as tangentopoli (bribesville) and the creation of an anti-communist paramilitary group, Gladio.

But its global notoriety is largely down to its role in the collapse of the Vatican-linked Banco Ambrosiano.

The death of Calvi, the bank's chairman and a P2 member, was initially deemed to have been a suicide.

But subsequent investigations pointed to it having been a murder which Italian prosecutors believe was the work of the Sicilian mafia.

The organised crime syndicate had used Ambrosiano to recycle funds, some of which were moved out of Italy via the Vatican bank.

No-one was ever convicted for carrying out or commissioning Calvi's murder.

Gelli was investigated over the death but never formally indicted. The location of Blackfriars bridge was seen as indicating a link to P2 because members of the illegal group referred to themselves as 'frati neri', Italian for black friars.

- Gold ingots -

Around the time of P2's outlawing, Gelli fled to Switzerland. He was arrested there in 1982 but subsequently escaped from prison and was a fugitive until 1987.

Switzerland agreed to extradite him for prosecution for his role in the Ambrosiano collapse.

First convicted in 1982, his sentence was not finally confirmed until April 1998 and he was allowed to serve that term and several others under house arrest, which he remained under until his death.

New charges of huge tax fraud were filed against him two years ago and the state has taken ownership of his villa, where, in 1982, police seized 179 gold ingots weighing 168 kilogrammes (370 pounds).

Born in Pistoia, Tuscany on April 21, 1919, Gelli first became involved in politics as part of Benito Mussolini's fascist movement and he volunteered to fight with future dictator General Francisco Franco's forces in the Spanish civil war.

He fought briefly with Italy's anti-Nazi resistants, the Partisans, at the end of World War II, but later joined the neo-fascist MSI political party.

According to Italian media, Gelli worked for the CIA during the war, a time when the US secret services also enlisted the help of the mafia in an effort to counter the influence of one of Europe's biggest Communist parties.

Having joined the freemasons in the 1960s, Gelli founded the P2 lodge in 1970 and by the time it was outlawed 11 years later it had at least 962 members, according to a list seized from his villa.

The most prominent figure known to have been in the shadowy group was Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who was to go on to become prime minister.

Gelli also spent part of the 1970s in exile in Argentina, where he forged close links to the Generals who installed a military dictatorship in 1976.

[Source: France Presse, Paris, 16Dec15]

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Corruption and Organized Crime
small logoThis document has been published on 17Dec15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.