A masonic conspiracy of gigantic proportions rocked Italy to its foundations in the spring and summer of 1981. Known as the 'P2' case, this imbroglio of corruption, blackmail and murder brought down the coalition government of premier Arnaldo Forlani and decimated the upper echelons of Italian power.
P2 is the popular abbreviation of Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due, which had become, in the words of the leader of Italy's Republican Party, 'the centre of pollution of national life - secret, perverse and corrupting'.
The moment this 'scandal of scandals' hit the headlines, individual members of the United Grand Lodge hastened to point out that English Freemasonry was fundamentally different from that practised in Italy. But in spite of the perfectly sincere disclaimers emanating from Great Queen Street, the mysterious P2 case has a direct bearing on events in Britain today.
If the solution to the mystery of P2 is as I suspect, Britain stands in danger of a social calamity at least as great as that which struck Italy. Data and clues garnered from many sources, including the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Security Service (MI5), suggest that without yet knowing it the British government faces an impossible dilemma. Evidence published here for the first time indicates that British Freemasonry, without realizing it, has become a time-bomb which could explode at any moment.
But first P2: how it began, what it seemed, and what it really was.
Freemasonry was introduced to Italy in about 1733 by an Englishman, Lord Sackville, but because of its open involvement in politics and religion Italian Freemasonry was not recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England until 1973.
A 'Propaganda' Lodge was constituted in Turin a century ago under the Grand Orient of Italy. This elite Lodge, which counted among its members the King himself, was in some ways similar to the English Quatuor Coronati Lodge No 2076 in that its purpose was to further research into Masonry. Despite several reports to the contrary, there was no connection save the name between this Lodge and the sinister masonic group of the present day. In fact, Lodge Propaganda Due was not even a Lodge in the true sense. It was a secret grouping of Masons but it was never officially constituted and never held regular meetings of all members.
P2 was formed in 1966 at the behest of the then Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy, Giordano Gamberini. The Grand Master's plan was to establish a group of eminent men who would be sympathetic and useful to Freemasonry. The man chosen to create this elite band was a rich textile manufacturer from the town of Arezzo in Tuscany. He had entered Masonry two years before and had risen to the Italian equivalent of Master Mason. His name was Licio Gelli.
Gelli, the first Italian to have been accredited with dual Italian-Argentinian nationality, had fought for the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and later been a passionate supporter of Mussolini. Later, having been involved in the torture of Italian partisans, he was forced to flee the country, winding up in Argentina. There he met President Juan Peron and a long and close friendship began. Peron eventually appointed Gelli to the position of Argentina's economic adviser to Italy. Years passed, and Gelli returned to his native country, settled at Arezzo and became a Freemason.
The group of men Gelli was ostensibly getting together on behalf of Grand Master Gamberini was called Raggruppamento Gelli Propaganda Due - P2 for short. The members came to be known as Piduisti - 'P2-ists'. Gelli had ambitions for P2 which the Grand Master had never so much as imagined.
By 1969 P2 was being spoken of as a Lodge, and Gelli as its Venerable Master. He had a genius for convincing people he had immense influence in public affairs, and many men joined P2 because they believed the Venerable Master's patronage was indispensable to the furtherance of their careers. By this self-perpetuating process, Gelli's purported power became real. Others joined the Lodge because Gelli used ruthless blackmail. The 'masonic dues' Gelli extracted from the brethren of Lodge P2 were not primarily financial. What the Venerable Master demanded - and got - were secrets: official secrets which he could use to consolidate and extend his power, and personal secrets he could use to blackmail others into joining his Lodge. This most sensitive information from all areas of government was passed to him by his members, who seem to have obeyed him with unquestioning devotion. In 1976 a legitimate Freemason, Francesco Siniscalchi, made a statement at the office of the Rome Public Prosecutor, alleging that Gelli was involved in criminal activities. He was ignored, partly because of Gelli's already formidable reputation, which intimidated two officers responsible for processing the complaint.
Soon after this, Gelli came to the notice of the police after his friend and P2 member Michele Sindona, Italy's most influential private banker, had fled to the United States leaving financial chaos behind him. Wanted on charges of fraud in Italy, Sindona was arrested in New York. Gelli flew to America and testified that Sindona was an innocent victim of Communist intrigue. It was Sindona, widely believed to have links with the Mafia, who introduced Gelli in Washington, DC, to Philip Guarino, a director of the US Republican Party's National Committee and Ronald Reagan's campaign manager in the 1980 Presidential Election. It was thanks to Guarino that Gelli was able to attend the inauguration of Reagan as President in January 1981, two months before the P2 bomb exploded.
In 1980, facing fraud charges in New York following the collapse of his Franklin National Bank - reputedly America's worst banking disaster - Sindona appealed to his Venerable Master for help. Meanwhile in Italy magistrates were still investigating Sindona's fraudulent activities and also the events behind the murder of the liquidator of his financial empire. After the appeal to Gelli, a fake kidnapping was staged in New York and Sindona disappeared. Evidence came to light that implicated Gelli in the escape and on 18 March 1981 two Milan magistrates ordered a police raid on his villa outside Arezzo.
Gelli, as always, had been one step ahead. By the time the police reached the Villa Wanda, named after his wife, they had both disappeared. A warrant was later issued for Gelli's arrest on charges of political, military and industrial espionage, and endangering the security of the state.
Among the documents left behind at the abandoned villa were the membership files of P2. A list of members drawn up by Gelli contained the names of nearly a thousand of Italy's most powerful men. One prosecutor's report later stated: 'Lodge Propaganda Due is a secret sect that has combined business and politics with the intention of destroying the country's constitutional order.'
Among the names were three members of the Cabinet including Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti; several former Prime Ministers including Giulio Andreotti who had held office between 1972 and 1973 and again between 1976 and 1979; forty-three Members of Parliament; fifty-four top Civil Servants; 183 army, navy and air force officers including thirty generals and eight admirals (among them the Commander of the Armed Forces, Admiral Giovanni Torrisi); nineteen judges; lawyers; magistrates; carabiniere; police chiefs; leading bankers; newspaper proprietors, editors and journalists (including the editor of the country's leading newspaper Il Corriere Della Sera); fifty-eight university professors; the leaders of several political parties; and even the directors of the three main intelligence services.
All these men, according to the files, had sworn allegiance to Gelli, and held themselves ready to respond to his call. The 953 names were divided into seventeen groupings, or cells, each having its own leader. P2 was so secret and so expertly run by Gelli that even its own members did not know who belonged to it. Those who knew most were the seventeen cell leaders and they knew only their own grouping. Not even Spartaco Mennini, the then Grand Secretary of the Grand Orient of Italy, knew the entire membership of the Lodge. Only Licio Gelli knew that.
P2 was the very embodiment of the fear that had haunted Italy's Under Secretary of State in 1913 when he had called for a law that 'declared the unsuitability of members of the Masonic Lodge to hold certain offices (such as those in the Judiciary, in the Army, in the Education Department, etc.), the high moral and social value of which is compromised by any hidden and therefore uncontrollable tie, and by any motive of suspicion, and lack of trust on the part of the public'.
In 1976 an official in Italy's Interior Ministry had declared that Gelli controlled 'the most potent hidden power centre' in the country. It took five more years, and Gelli's own connivance, for the real extent of his power to be revealed. As the magistrates ploughing through the files from the Villa Wanda stated, Gelli had 'constructed a very real state within the state', and was attempting to overturn the Republic.
Of the many political groupings in Italy, Gelli's files showed that only the Communist Party had no links with P2. All the others - Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Radicals, Neo-Fascists - had members in the Lodge.
When the magistrates finally presented the Gelli papers to the Italian Parliament in May 1981, they had sorted them into ten heavy piles. There was immediate uproar and calls for the four-party coalition government of Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Forlani to resign. As it became clear how completely Gelli had infiltrated not only the corridors but the most secret and vital centres of power, increasing pressure was applied to Forlani to have the documents published. He was finally forced to agree, but fought to hold on to the premiership by a mere reshuffle that would expel the Piduisti from the Cabinet. But the Communists, the second largest political grouping in the country, now doubly strong by virtue of the fact that only they among Italy's parties were completely free of involvement in P2, resisted furiously.
And the Socialists' leader, Bettino Craxi, although he had thirty-five P2 members within his own party, seized his opportunity and refused to be part of any coalition headed by a Christian Democrat. After seventeen days of desperate negotiations with his former political allies, Forlani reached the end of the road. The government fell and Craxi made his bid for the premiership.
When Craxi, too, failed, the eighty-five-year-old President Alessandro Pertini invited Republican Party leader Giovanni Spadolini to attempt to form a new coalition. Spadolini succeeded, becoming Italy's first non-Christian Democrat premier since the Second World War, and heading a government made up of five separate parties.
As more and more documents were scrutinized it became clear that Gelli had his Freemasons in every decisionmaking centre in Italian politics, and was able to exert significant influence over those decisions. Even top secret summit meetings between the leaders of the coalition had not been secret for Gelli because of the substantial presence at the meetings of Social Democrat leader Pietro Longo, who was P2 member 2223. P2 had reached the very heart of government activity in the Palazzo Chigi. Mario Semprini, the Prime Minister's closest collaborator and his Chief of Cabinet, had been a member of P2 for over four years (membership No 1637), and was regularly passing secrets to his Venerable Master.
Another Christian Democrat officer, Massimiliano Cencelli, a former minister and a friend of masonic Justice Minister Sarti, was also a spy for P2. Lodge member 2180, Cencelli worked at the Office for the Co-ordination of the Secret Services.
Many P2 members were close associates of Forlani.
These included Enzo Badioli, the powerful chief of the Christian Democrat Co-operatives, and Gianni Cerioni, MP for Ancona.
Others were close to the President of the Senate, Amintore Fanfani, who was from Gelli's home town of Arezzo.
The catalogue of the powerful becomes tedious by its very length. A typical example of the enormity of Gelli's own influence over the lives of these men is the case of Mario Pedini who had suddenly been appointed a minister when he joined P2 and as quickly dropped by the government when his Lodge membership lapsed in 1978.
Other P2 members included the Minister of Employment, the Under-Secretary for Industry, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Commerce Minister.
It became apparent that nothing of vital importance had occurred in Italy in recent years which Gelli had not known about in advance or shortly after. Many vital developments were the result of his covert actions from the centre of his secret web. At the height of his power, the most bizarre actions were taken by successive governments, each of which were in Gelli's pocket.
Magistrates sifting the documents from the Villa Wanda found hundreds of top secret intelligence documents. Colonel Antonio Viezzer, the former head of the combined intelligence services, was identified as the prime source of this material and was arrested in Rome for spying on behalf of a foreign power. Following his interrogation, police raided the offices of a fashionable Tuscan lawyer and two suitcases crammed with incriminating documents were discovered. Dr Domenico Sica, head of the enquiries into P2 in Rome, was confident the papers had belonged to Gelli. They backed up the evidence in the Villa Wanda papers in the form of receipts for subscriptions paid to P2 by its members, and also receipts for bribes paid to Lodge members for 'services rendered'.
The extent to which P2 had destabilized Italy is exemplified by the events following President Pertini's actions immediately he was informed of the scandal. Among the members of the Lodge were two of his own executives, men he had liked and trusted. They were Sergio Piscitello (Master of Ceremonies of the Quirinale) and Francesco Gregorio, Pertini's diligent secretary for many years. Without hesitation the President suspended Piscitello and demoted Gregorio to typist. Three government ministers who believed the P2 lists were genuine wanted to follow Pertini's example. They couldn't. As one observer put it:
The trial of strength with the concealed power of P2 has been exhausting for the weakened Forlani government. For days and days the ministers have been asking for some sign of good will (from Lodge members in high office), even simply to go on leave or to be available to the committee of enquiry, or to delegate their tasks to subordinates.
But the 'Piduisti' have turned down every request, especially those within the military establishment.
On the weekend of 16 and 17 May, generals and admirals included on the membership lists met to work out a common strategy for their own survival. They decided to declare themselves victims of a plot and sit tight, defying the investigators to find concrete evidence against them.
At this point the fearful power of Gelli was found to have undermined not only the national security of Italy, but to have struck at the roots of western strength in southern Europe and the Middle East. NATO was forced to support the attitude of the corrupt Freemasons in Italy's armed forces. Officials in Brussels and Washington suggested discreetly that it was not the right moment to create a vacuum of power in the Italian army, navy and secret services. To replace the Defence Chief of Staff (P2 member No 1825), the Chief of Military Counterespionage (P2 member No 1603), and the Chief of National Security (P2 member No 1620) might, said NATO, have grave repercussions on NATO's south flank forces, where the Lebanese crisis had taken a dangerous turn.