Agostino Cordova, chief public prosecutor of the Mafia-ridden district of Palmi, disclosed last week that 19 hitherto unknown members of the notorious P2 Masonic conspiracy have seats in parliament. And he has alleged to parliament's anti-Mafia commission that Italy's various police forces, which he believes have many Masons in high ranks, are obstructing his efforts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy.
Judge Cordova's disclosures came more than a decade after the secret P2 lodge, under its grandmaster Licio Gelli, was uncovered and banned. With around 2,600 members, many of them in top positions in politics, the secret services, the police, the judiciary, the press and other key professions, Gelli - or the shadowy figures who may have been manipulating him - had a network capable of controlling, or at least strongly influencing, public life.
During the investigations the names of 950 members were found. The remaining 1,650 were never unmasked, and the conspiracy, it is suspected, may still be active. Dr Cordova now appears to have the names of some of the conspirators.
As Italy's old ruling class began to collapse amid mounting scandals, and magistrates became freer to investigate, Dr Cordova and several of his colleagues found that Masonic lodges had become the medium - what he called the 'connective tissue' - through which Mafia bosses, politicians, entrepreneurs, members of the police, the judiciary and other civil servants, weave shady deals. Out of the 30,000 members of legal Masonic lodges in Italy, Dr Cordova has stated, nearly 9,000 are in the Mafia-dominated regions of Sicily, Calabria and Campania. Corrupt Masons are suspected of having been involved in recent bomb attacks, including the attack on Florence's Uffizi gallery.
He and other investigators have come upon numerous secret, and therefore illegal, lodges - whether they are spontaneous or controlled by the P2 is not clear - while numerous apparently respectable legal ones are now also suspect. 'Often it is difficult to distinguish between the former and the latter,' Dr Cordova told the commission. He has identified 25 different Masonic 'obediences' or factions, of which only three are known to the outside world.
But while investigations into the Mafia itself have made much headway recently thanks largely to a new political will to crack the problem, he says he has been confronted with endless obstacles in trying to tackle the Masons. The Justice Ministry is keeping his staff on half-strength - five instead of 10 deputies, three of whom are novices - and has subjected his office to repeated inspections.
Dr Cordova has managed to focus the attention of the public, punch-drunk by scandals, by complaining to the anti-Mafia commission of a 'general reluctance' among the police to investigate seriously. When he asked them to get him lists of members of Masonic lodges, he said, with a few exceptions they brought him obsolete lists, often without details which helped establish members' identities, or 'gave evasive replies or none at all'. Sometimes, he added, 'they said they knew of the existence of no lodges, even in areas which are well- known to be full of them'.
He also wrote to most of the public prosecutors' offices in the country asking for help in his investigations, but again got few replies. Sometimes he only learned from the newspapers that his colleagues had opened similar investigations in their areas.
Asked if the Freemasons had infiltrated the police he said: 'It seems obvious.' Questioned as to how many there were, he said it was 'difficult to say, but certainly very many'.
His complaints appear to have galvanised the authorities. The anti- Mafia 'super-prosecutor', Bruno Siclari, has told his staff to gather all the material from magistrates investigating the Freemasons so that their work can be better co-ordinated. The police said that they had 'no reason whatever' to obstruct the investigations, and ordered their men to do what Dr Cordova asked.
A barrage of questions has been tabled in parliament. Tomorrow the Interior Minister, Nicola Mancino, will meet Dr Cordova to discuss his complaints in detail.
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