April 21, 1919|
Licio Gelli (born April 21, 1919) is an Italian financier, chiefly known for his role in the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. He was revealed in 1981 as being the Venerable Master of the clandestine Masonic lodge Propaganda Due (P2). He was born in Pistoia, Tuscany.
During the 1930s, Gelli volunteered for the "Black Shirts" expeditionary forces sent by Mussolini to Spain in support of Francisco Franco's rebellion, and subsequently became a liaison officer between the Italian government and the Third Reich, with contacts including Hermann Göring. He participated in the Italian Social Republic with Giorgio Almirante, founder of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI).
After World War II
Gelli collaborated with American and British intelligence agencies after World War II. Gelli also joined the neofascist MSI, which gave him parliamentary immunity. In 1970, during the failed Golpe Borghese, he was delegated the role of arresting the Italian President, Giuseppe Saragat. As grand master of the Propaganda Due (P2) masonic lodge, Gelli had ties with very high level personalities in Italy and abroad, in particular in Argentina. The Argentine Chancellor Alberto Vignes drafted with Juan Perón, who had returned from exile in 1973, a decree granting Gelli the Gran Cruz de la Orden del Libertador in August 1974, as well as the honorary office of economic counselor in the embassy of Argentina in Italy. According to a letter sent by Gelli to César de la Vega, a P2 member and Argentine ambassador to the UNESCO, Gelli commissioned P2 member Federico Carlos Barttfeld to be transferred from the consulate of Hamburg to the Argentine embassy in Rome. Licio Gelli was also named minister plenipotentiary for cultural affairs in the Argentine embassy in Italy, thus providing him with diplomatic immunity. He had four diplomatic passports issued by Argentina, and has been charged in Argentina with falsification of official documents.
During the 1970s, Gelli brokered three-way oil and arms deals between Libya, Italy and Argentina through the Agency for Economic Development, which he and Umberto Ortolani owned.
As grand master of Propaganda Due, Gelli allegedly assumed a major role in Gladio's "strategy of tension" in Italy, starting with the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing. Gladio was a clandestine "stay-behind" operation sponsored by the CIA and NATO to counter communist influence in Western European countries; it has been involved in terrorist false flags operations in Italy.
In 1990, a report on RAI Television alleged that the CIA had paid Licio Gelli to foment terrorist activities in Italy. Following this report, which also claimed that the CIA had been involved in the assassination of the Swedish Prime minister Olof Palme, then President Francesco Cossiga requested the opening of investigations while the CIA itself officially denied these allegations. Critics have claimed the RAI report to be a fraud because of the inclusion of testimony from Richard Brenneke, who claimed to be a former CIA agent and made several declarations concerning the October surprise conspiracy. Brenneke's background was also investigated by a U.S. Senate subcommittee, which dismissed Brenneke's claims of CIA employment. On November 23, 1995, the Court of Cassation (Corte di Cassazione) convicted Licio Gelli (grand master of P2), Francesco Pazienza and SISMI officers Pietro Musumeci and Giuseppe Belmonte of diverting investigations in relation to the Bologna Massacre.
The 1981 raid & the P2 list
Licio Gelli's downfall started with the Banco Ambrosiano scandal, which led to a 1981 police raid on his villa and the discovery of the P2 covert lodge. On March 17, 1981, a police raid on his villa in Arezzo led to the discovery of a list of 962 persons composed of Italian military officers and civil servants involved in Propaganda Due (also known as "P2"), a clandestine lodge expelled from the Grande Oriente d'Italia Masonic organization. A list of alleged adherents was found by the police in Gelli's house in Arezzo in March 1981, containing 962 names, among which were important state officials, some important politicians and a number of military officers, including the heads of the three Italian secret services. Future Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was on the list, although he had not yet entered politics at the time. He was then just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV channel, was listed as a member of P2.
The national scandal that ensued was quite thrilling, given that most of the most delicate affairs of the republic were controlled by Gelli's affiliates. A Parliamentary Commission, directed by Tina Anselmi (of the Christian Democratic party), found no evidence of crimes, but in 1981 the Italian parliament passed a law banning secret associations in Italy. Gelli was expelled from GOI freemasonry on October 31, 1981, and the P2 scandal provoked the fall of Arnaldo Forlani's cabinet in June 1981 
The P2 lodge did undoubtedly have some form of power in Italy, given the public prominence of its members, and many observers still consider it to be extremely strong. Several famous people in Italy today (starting with the top TV anchor-man Maurizio Costanzo) were affiliated with P2. Among these Michele Sindona, a banker with clear connections to the Mafia, has been clearly associated with P2. In 1972, Sindona purchased a controlling interest in Long Island's Franklin National Bank. Two years later, the bank collapsed. Convicted in 1980 in the USA, "mysterious Michele" was extradited to Italy. Two years later, he was poisoned in his cell while serving a life sentence. The P2 membership list was authenticated, with a few exceptions, by a 1984 parliamentary report.
On the run, Licio Gelli escaped to Switzerland where he was arrested on September 13, 1982 while trying to withdraw tens of millions of dollars in Geneva. Detained in the modern Champ-Dollon Prison near Geneva, he managed to escape and then fled to South America for four years. In 1984 Jorge Vargas, the secretary general of the Union Nacionalista de Chile (UNACH, Nationalist Union of Chile, a short-lived National Socialist party ) and a former member of the Movimiento Revolucionario Nacional Sindicalista (National-Syndicalist Revolutionary Movement ), declared to La Tercera de la Hora that Gelli was then in Chile.
Finally, Gelli surrendered in 1987 in Switzerland to investigative judge Jean-Pierre Trembley. He was wanted in connection with the 1982 collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano  and on charges of subversive association in connection with the 1980 Bologna railway station bombing, which killed 85 people.
He was sentenced to two months in prison in Switzerland, while an Italian court in Florence sentenced him on December 15, 1987, in absentia, to 8 years in prison on charges of financing national activity in Tuscany in the 1970s. Gelli had already been sentenced in absentia to 14 months in jail by a court in San Remo for illegally exporting money from Italy.
Extradition to Italy and trials
Switzerland eventually agreed to extradite him to Italy, but only on financial charges stemming from the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. Gelli's extradition in February 1988 required a high-level security apparatus, including 100 sharpshooters, decoy cars, a train, road blocks and two armored cars to transfer him to Italy. In July 1988 he was absolved of charges of subversive association by a Bologna court but was presented with a five-year prison term for slander, having side-tracked the investigation into the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station. However, stipulations connected to his extradition prevented him from serving time. Two years later, an appeal court threw out Gelli's slander conviction. A retrial was ordered in October 1993.
In 1992 Licio Gelli was sentenced to 18 years and six months of prison after being found guilty of fraud concerning the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982 (a "black hole" of $1.4 billion was found). The Vatican bank, Istituto per le Opere di Religione, main share-holder of the Banco Ambrosiano, consequently had a "black hole" of $250 million. This sentence was reduced by the Court of Appeal to 12 years.
The year 1992 also saw the beginning of the trial of 16 members of the P2 Masonic Lodge, which included charges of conspiracy against the state, espionage, and the revelation of state secrets. In April 1994, Gelli received a 17-year sentence for divulging state secrets and slandering the investigation, while the court threw out the charge that P2 members conspired against the state; Gelli's sentence was reduced, and he was placed under house arrest two years later.
In April 1998, the Court of Cassation confirmed a 12 year sentence for the Ambrosiano crash. Gelli then disappeared on the eve of being imprisoned, in May 1998, while being under house arrest in his mansion near Arezzo. His disappearance was strongly suspected to be the result of being forewarned. Then, finally, he was arrested in the French Riviera in Cannes.
Two motions of no confidence were made by the right-wing opposition (the Northern League and the ex-Christian Democratic splinter groups CDU-CDR), against the Justice Minister, Giovanni Maria Flick, and the Interior Minister, Giorgio Napolitano, stating that Gelli had benefited from accomplices helping him in his escape. They also made reference to secret negotiations which would have allowed him to reappear without going to prison. But the two ministers won the confidence vote.
A few years after the Ambrosiano scandal, many suspects pointed toward Gelli with reference to his possible involvement in the murder of the Milanese banker Roberto Calvi, also known as "God's banker", who had been jailed in the wake of the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. On July 19, 2005, Gelli was formally indicted by Roman Magistrates for the murder of Roberto Calvi, along with former Mafia boss Giuseppe Calò (also known as "Pippo Calò"), businessmen Ernesto Diotallevi and Flavio Carboni, and the latter's girlfriend, Manuela Kleinszig. In his statement before the court Gelli blamed people connected with Calvi's work in financing the Polish Solidarity movement, allegedly on behalf of the Vatican. He was accused of having provoked Calvi's death in order to punish him for having embezzled money owed to him and the Mafia. The Mafia also wanted to prevent Calvi from revealing how the bank had been used for money laundering.
Gelli has been implicated in Aldo Moro's murder, since the Italian chief of intelligence, accused of negligence, was a piduista (P2 member).
Connections to Argentina's military junta
A fugitive in Argentina for many years, Licio Gelli publicly declared on repeated occasions that he was a close friend of Argentina's leader Juan Peron, although no confirmation ever came from South America, and he often affirmed, without ever explicitly explaining why, that this friendship was of real importance for Italy. Several members of the Argentine military junta have been found to be P2 members, such as Raúl Alberto Lastiri, Argentina's interim president from July 13, 1973 until October 12, 1973, Emilio Massera, part of Jorge Videla's military junta from 1976 to 1978, and José López Rega, the infamous founder of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance ("Triple A").
Nomination for Nobel Prize in Literature
2003 interviewIn 2003, Gelli told La Repubblica that it seemed that the P2 "democratic rebirth plan" was being implemented by Silvio Berlusconi:
Every morning I speak to my conscience and the dialogue calms me down. I look at the country, read the newspaper, and think: "All is becoming a reality little by little, piece by piece. To be truthful, I should have had the copyright to it. Justice, TV, public order. I wrote about this thirty years ago... Berlusconi is an extraordinary man, a man of action. This is what Italy needs: not a man of words, but a man of action.
He talked of many Italian politicians. Of Fabrizio Cicchitto he said he knew him well (è bravo, preparato - "he's good and capable"). With regard to Berlusconi's program for the reform of the judicial system, he boasted that this had been an integral part of his original project. He also approved of Berlusconi's reorganization of TV networks.
In December 2007 Licio Gelli signed a life rights agreement with New York based producer Gabor Harrach. The movie (working title 'Conspirator') is in development.
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- Costanzo Costantini, Sangue sulla dolce vita, Gremese Editore, 2006 p.126.
- Susana Viau and Eduardo Tagliaferro, Carlos Bartffeld, Mason y Amigo de Massera, Fue Embajador en Yugoslavia Cuando Se Vendieron Armas a Croacia - En el mismo barco, Pagina 12, December 14, 1998 (Spanish)
- Hot Money and the Politics of Debt By R. T. Naylor
- Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe Frank Cass Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-7146-8500-3 (a quick resume available here)
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- Arthur E. Rowse, "Gladio: The Secret U.S. War to Subvert Italian Democracy" in Covert Action #49, Summer of 1994.
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- Boston Globe, June 14, 1981
- Ginsborg, Italy and Its Discontent, pp. 144-48
- "The War They Wanted, the Lies They Needed". Vanity Fair. July 2006.
- "Leader of Italian Scandal Arrested Trying to Get Cash in Swiss Bank," The Miami Herald, September 15, 1982 (English)
- "Sindona guilty of bank fraud". Time magazine. April 7, 1980.(English)
- Mathiason, Nick (December 9, 2003). "Who killed Calvi?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved May 7, 2010.(English)
- "El poder en el mundo después de la "tangente"". Clarín. May 23, 1996.(Spanish)
- "Italian Panel Reports on Secret Lodge," The Boston Globe, July 4, 1984 (English)
- "Scandal Figure Fled With Help of Warden". The Miami Herald. 1983-08-13.
- Franz Pfeiifer R., Memorias de treinta años II. (written by a former MNRS member) (Spanish)
- "Gelli en Chile, dice diario", El Nuevo Herald (Miami), July 30, 1984 (Spanish)
- "Ex-head of Secret Masonic Lodge, Licio Gelli, Surrenders to Judge", The Seattle Times, 21 September 1987 (English)
- "Italian Bank Scam Fugitive Surrenders in Switzerland", Philadelphia Daily News, September 21, 1987 (English)
- "Gelli, Fugitive Italian Financier, Gives Himself Up in Switzerland," The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 1987 (English)
- "Swiss Court Jails Italian Financier", The Washington Post, December 23, 1987 (English)
- "Terrorism Conviction," Newsday (Melville, NY), December 16, 1987 (English)
- "Conspiracy suspect extradited Gelli shipped to Italy amid tight security," The Orange County Register, February 18, 1988 (English)
- "Four Convicted Of Mass Murder In Italian Bombing That Killed 85". Associated Press. 1988-07-11.
- "Court issues sentences in Bologna train bombing". United Press International. 1988-07-11.
- "Appeals Court Throws Out Bologna Bombing Convictions". Associated Press. 1990-07-19.
- "Second Appeals Trial Begins for Train Station Bombing". Associated Press. 1993-10-11.
- "P2 masonic lodge goes on trial for conspiracy". The Independent. 1992-10-13.
- "Berlusconi gets speakers elected". The Guardian. 1994-04-18.
- "Grandmaster of Italian P2 lodge arrested". Agence France Press. 1998-09-10.
- "Top Italian fugitive Licio Gelli arrested in France," Associated Press, September 10, 1998 (English)
- "Italian justice and interior ministers win confidence vote," ANSA, May 29, 1998 (English)
- "Pots of Gold". BBC News. September 14, 1998.(English)
- "Gelli deported back to Italy". BBC News. October 16, 1998.(English)
- Ginsborg, Paul (2003). Italy and Its Discontents, London: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 1-4039-6152-2 (Review Institute of Historical Research | Review New York Times)