Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Propaganda Due, a secret Masonic lodge reportedly involved in criminal activities, was found to have nearly one thousand of Italy’s political and economic elite as members. The resulting scandal became one of the biggest in Italy and shook the coalition government of Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani when it became known that Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti had applied for membership.

Summary of Event

On March 17, 1981, the Italian financial police (one of the four branches of the national police force) raided Licio Gelli’s villa in the Tuscan countryside. Ostensibly a mattress manufacturer and owner of a furniture store in the city of Arezzo, the seemingly reformed Gelli, also a fascist, turned out to be the head of a right-wing Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P-2. Lodge members were intent on preventing a feared takeover of the Italian government by Il Partito Comunista Italiana, or PCI (the Communist Party;Italian Italian Communist Party), the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union. [kw]Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection (May 23, 1981) [kw]Crime Connection, Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of (May 23, 1981) Calvi, Roberto Propaganda Due Forlani, Arnaldo Sarti, Adolfo Mafia;and Adolfo Sarti[Sarti] Propaganda Due Forlani, Arnaldo Sarti, Adolfo Mafia;and Adolfo Sarti[Sarti] [g]Europe;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] [g]Italy;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] [c]Corruption;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] [c]Government;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] [c]Politics;May 23, 1981: Italian Justice Minister Resigns Because of Crime Connection[01950] Gelli, Licio Sindona, Michele Berlusconi, Silvio

The financial police had been directed to search Gelli’s villa by the Bank of Italy. Investigators had fortuitously come across Gelli’s name in connection with Mafia financial dealings with Michele Sindona, a banker. In the course of the raid, the police came upon a list of 964 members of a previously unknown and, as later determined, influential and rogue Masonic lodge. The list was a who’s who of right-wing politicians and civic officials and clergy members, including figures from industry, journalism, law, and all branches of the police forces and military.

Gelli had been a convinced and active fascist and remained a supporter of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Benito Mussolini. After World War II, Gelli was put on a list of fascists to be kept under observation. He remained there well into the 1950’s. After becoming a businessman and giving no cause for alarm, he was removed from the list. As events would prove, however, he was a right-wing organizer who was dedicated, as were virtually all members of P-2, to preventing PCI from coming to power in Italy’s government.

In 1965, Gelli decided to join the Grand Lodge of Masons in Rome in 1965. In contrast to the United States, where Masons reveal their membership by wearing rings and insignia, Italian Masons have always taken the greatest care not to reveal their membership in the order. By 1969, the suave and urbane Gelli succeeded in forming the breakaway sublodge P-2. Gelli held court in a five-star hotel in Rome. Through his Banco Ambrosiano and with the consent of Roman Catholic archbishop Marcinkus, Paul Paul Marcinkus, Roberto Calvi was bankrolling Gelli’s lifestyle and activities. It was estimated at the time of Banco Ambrosiano’s collapse during the early 1980’s, Gelli and P-2 owed the bank close to $300 million.

Gelli’s lodge exercised significant influence over the various sectors of Italian high society, of which P-2 members were a part. In addition, P-2 had editorial control of Italy’s leading newspaper, the Milanese Corriere della Sera, after controlling interest in the newspaper had been purchased by Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano.

By 1970, Gelli had developed membership in P-2 to the point where he could organize an attempted coup d’etat of PCI, the decadent, weak government he perceived ripe for a takeover by the major party in Italy. Scholars of P-2 are convinced that Gelli was employed by the U.S. Central Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;and Italy[Italy] Intelligence Agency (CIA), which ordered a stop to the coup just after it had begun and just short of the president of the republic becoming a prisoner. After the aborted coup, P-2 went deeper underground.

Throughout the 1970’s, Italy was racked by the political violence of the Red Brigades. However, it was P-2 that likely planned and financed the worst act of violence in Italy’s postwar history: the 1980 bombing at the Bologna railway station. The widespread outcry forced government agencies to act vigorously against domestic terrorism. Identification of Gelli in conjunction with the investigation into the Sindona and Calvi banking scandals ultimately generated the search of Gelli’s villa and the discovery of the P-2 membership list. P-2 was officially declared a criminal organization.

In 1981, a coalition Italian government was cobbled together and headed by the nondescript Christian Democrat prime minister, Arnaldo Forlani. Forlani appointed a likewise unprepossessing party stalwart, Adolfo Sarti, who was a former minister of public education, of defense, and of justice. The seized P-2 membership list had been turned over to Forlani. Despite his attempts to keep the membership from becoming public, word about the raid leaked and the media’s response to Forlani’s stonewalling was ear splitting.

One journalist, Mino Pecorelli, who clearly had damning insider information and was producing one compromising article after another in 1981, was murdered in Rome in broad daylight. The murder was considered a threat and warning to journalists in general. A high-ranking Mafia figure, arrested well after the fact and revealing inside secrets in exchange for reduction of his sentence, stated that P-2 had commissioned Pecorelli’s murder, which was executed by the Mafia.

A primary aim of P-2 was to control the judiciary as well as law enforcement so that P-2 members could count on escaping trial or, failing that, receive lighter than normal sentences. P-2 came close to achieving that particular aim when it was discovered among papers confiscated in the raid on Gelli’s villa that Sarti, the recently appointed minister of justice in the short-lived Christian Democratic-coalition government, was an applicant for P-2 membership. When his application became known, demonstrating the high reach of P-2, Sarti was forced to resign from the cabinet.

Gelli was in Argentina at the time of the police raid on his villa. He was likely serving as a mule, that is, delivering money Money laundering;and Italian criminals[Italian criminals] laundered in one or more of Calvi’s many off-shore banks in Roman Catholic countries in Central and South America. For this work, Gelli took commissions and siphoned P-2 funds for his own secret Swiss bank account. Now indicted and wanted by the Italian police, Gelli remained incognito and outside Italy until he needed money. He returned to Europe and was arrested by Swiss police while entering Switzerland with a fake passport in an attempt to withdraw three million dollars from his account.

Gelli succeeded in bribing his way out of a Swiss jail and fled to prevent his extradition. He was eventually arrested and extradited to Italy, where he was tried. Although the major charges against him could not be proven and he was not sentenced to prison, Gelli was placed under house arrest for lesser P-2-related charges. He lived under house arrest until 2007 when, because of his age and ill health, was permitted freedom of movement within Italy.


As a consequence of the P-2 scandal, the days of governmental control by the center-right Christian Democratic Party, which had ruled Italy since 1948, became numbered. Following the collapse of the Forlani government in 1981, the reverse of P-2’s aims became reality: Sandro Pertini, a Socialist, was elected president of Italy. Given the crisis conditions, Pertini appointed as prime minister the first non-Christian Democrat, Giuseppe Spadolini of the Republican Party. When that coalition failed, Pertini appointed as prime minister fellow Socialist Bettino Craxi, in 1983. Craxi’s party, it turned out, was financed by Calvi, his fellow Milanese and a P-2 member.

Following the next big scandal, P-2 member and politician Silvio Berlusconi, accused of bribery, formed the Forza Italia Party and was appointed prime minister for the first time in 1994 and then again in 2001 and 2008. Berlusconi’s center-right coalition lasted the entire election period and enabled him to enter Italian history as the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Italy. Propaganda Due Forlani, Arnaldo Sarti, Adolfo Mafia;and Adolfo Sarti[Sarti]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Raw, Charles. The Moneychangers: How the Vatican Bank Enabled Roberto Calvi to Steal Two Hundred Fifty Million for the Heads of the P2 Masonic Lodge. London: Harvill, 1992. A comprehensive study of the Ambrosiano-Calvi scandal that details virtually every known transaction in the case.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willan, Philip. The Last Supper: The Mafia, the Masons, and the Killing of Roberto Calvi. London: Robinson, 2007. Argues that P-2 was a remnant of Cold War politics, with its dueling fears of democracy and communism and the hunger for power and wealth.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Paul L. The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2003. An excellent first source for understanding the connections among players in the P-2 and related scandals.

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