Masonic Chief In Italian Political Scandal Surrenders
Sep. 21, 1987
GENEVA (AP) _ Licio Gelli, who headed a secret Masonic lodge at the center of Italy's biggest post-World War II political scandal, surrendered to Swiss authorities Monday after more than four years in hiding, a Geneva judge said.
Gelli, 68, was arraigned on corruption charges for bribing a prison guard to help him escape from Geneva's Champ-Dollon jail, then returned to solitary confinement in the same prison, investigating judge Jean-Pierre Trembley said.
At the time of his Aug. 10. 1983, escape, Gelli was awaiting extradition to Italy. Trembley said Gelli was believed to have fled to South America.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted a Gelli lawyer, Raffaello Giorgetti, as saying the fugitive surrendered because of poor health and that Gelli would undergo open heart surgery in Switzerland.
Gelli, former head of the Propaganda Due, or P-2 Masonic lodge in Italy, suffers from heart problems and presented ''voluminous'' medical files, Trembley told a news conference.
The Italian is to stand trial in Switzerland this year for the escape and faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison.
Gelli is considered the central figure in a network of spying, blackmail, fraud and right-wing political terrorism in Italy, where he is charged with involvement in the Aug. 2, 1980, bombing of a Bologna train station that killed 85 people and wounded 200.
Italian officials linked the secret P-2 lodge to a variety of crimes, including tax evasion, bribery and conspiracy to bring down Italy's constitutional government.
Gelli fled Italy in 1981 when police raided his office and found the file of alleged lodge members, which included government figures, journalists, business executives and generals.
The scandal toppled the Christian Democratic government led by Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani. Two Cabinet ministers were on the list.
Gelli, known in Italy as the ''grand puppeteer,'' also is believed tied to a scandal involving the 1982 collapse of Milan-based Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's biggest private bank.
The collapse followed the bank's failure to collect $1.3 billion in loans made to dummy companies in Latin America controlled by the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute for Religous Works.
Banco Ambrosiano money is frozen in a Swiss bank account in Gelli's name, and the name of the bank's ex-president, Roberto Calvi, was discovered on a list of P-2 members. Calvi, known as ''God's Banker'' because of his close ties to the Vatican, was found hanging from a London bridge in June 1982.
A Florence court also has indicated Gelli for allegedly financing arms buying by neo-Fascist groups.
In questioning Monday, Gelli said ''very little'' except to acknowledge that he bribed his way out of prison, Trembley said.
Gelli was arrested Sept. 13, 1982 at a Geneva branch of Union Bank of Switzerland when he tried to withdraw funds from a blocked account.
A year later, a prison guard eventually convicted of taking a $20,000 bribe freed Gelli from his cell, hid him in the trunk of a car and drove across the border to France to a waiting helicopter, which flew the fugitive to Monaco.
Nine days later, the Swiss Supreme Court approved Italy's request for extradition.