November 1, 2008 / 5:03 PM / 9 years ago

Italian ex-freemason boss to have his own TV show

FLORENCE, Italy, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The former head of an outlawed masonic lodge linked to some of Italy’s biggest scandals has sparked an outcry by announcing that he will take part in a television talk show to give his version of events.

Licio Gelli, the 89-year old former grandmaster of the shadowy Propaganda 2 (P2) group, will be the main guest in “Venerabile Italia” (Venerable Italy), a programme on Italy’s history from fascism to the 1980s.

The P2 was founded in 1969 and used to be the country’s most powerful secret organisation with prominent politicians, business leaders and military officers as members.

It has been at the centre of a number of investigations into allegations that it conspired with right-wing extremists and the Mafia to destabilise governments through bombings and violence, often blamed on extreme leftists.

“I find it disconcerting that a character like Licio Gelli could become some sort of TV star,” said Anna Finocchiaro, the head of the opposition Partito Democratico in the Senate.

Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s allies also balked at the prospect.

Gelli was sentenced to 12 years in jail for fraud in connection with the 1982 collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, whose boss Roberto Calvi -- known as “God’s banker” for his ties to the Vatican -- was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London.

Gelli was also found guilty of obstructing justice during investigations into one of the darkest episodes in Italy’s recent past, the 1980 explosion of a bomb at the Bologna train station which killed 85 people.

He was extradited back to Italy from France in 1998 after escaping from prison in Switzerland and spending some time on the run in South America.

At a news conference in Florence on Friday, Gelli said “I will die a fascist” and expressed his admiration for Berlusconi.

Osvaldo Napoli, a member of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party said “Gelli’s backing of the government was unsolicited”, calling his return to the scene “alarming”.

Lucia Leonessi, a journalist who has written a biography of Gelli and will host the TV programme, defended her work, saying Gelli had played a significant role in the country’s history.

“He is a prominent figure,” she told Reuters.

The first of the TV show’s nine episodes will air on Monday on Odeon TV, a privately owned network of regional TV stations broadcast across Italy. The network said the series would give historians “food for thought”. (Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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