Justice Minister Quits in Scandal Over Masonic Lodge
ROME - Justice Minister Adolfo Sarti resigned today after his name was linked to a Masonic lodge that prosecutors are investigating as a possible "criminal association."
The widening lodge scandal has led to the arrest of a former colonel in the Italian secret service and threatened Premier Arnaldo Forlani's 7-month-old coalition government.
Italian newspapers and magazines have alleged that the so-called "P2" lodge was involved in a variety of illegal activities ranging from bribery and tax evasion in the oil industry to a far-reaching plot to set up an authoritarian regime in Italy.
The names of top politicians, businessmen, publishers, diplomats and military officers were on a list of 953 lodge members Forlani released to the press two days ago under pressure from Parliament. Two cabinet members were on the list: Minister of Foreign Commerce Enrico Manca, a Socialist, and Labor Minister Franco Foschi, a Christian Democrat.
Sarti, who has helped direct Italy's battle against terrorism, was not named, but documents found in the home of the lodge's grand master reportedly says he was a candidate for membership.
Sarti, in a letter to Forlani, denied he had attempted to join the lodge, but said he was forced to leave the government because his name had been tainted in a "slanderous campaign." His resignation was announced after a 15-minute meeting with Forlani, a fellow Christian Democrat.
The Italian constitution prohibits secret associations, and if the P2 lodge were in fact secret, membership in it would be outlawed.
On Friday, Milan prosecutor Pierluigi Dell'Osso issued an arrest warrant for Grand Master Licio Gelli on charges of political espionage and the procuring of information on state security. Gelli is listed as a fugitive outside Italy.
A parliamentary committee investigating the case has said it suspects the lodge helped stage the phony kidnapping of Italian financier Michele Sindona in 1979.
Sindona is currently serving a 25-year prison term in the United States after being convicted on 65 counts of fraud in the collapse of the Franklin National Bank. He is also being tried on charges of staging an 11-week kidnapping before his fraud trial.