Italian masonic leader Licio Gelli dies aged 96

Licio Gelli Image copyright EPA
Image caption Gelli was sentenced to 12 years in prison but never served significant prison time

An Italian financier who was linked to several of the country's most troubling episodes has died at the age of 96.

Licio Gelli was the grandmaster of a notorious masonic group, Propaganda Two (P2), which included prominent Italian politicians and military figures.

P2 was exposed in 1981 and accused of conspiring with right-wing extremists and the mafia to undermine governments.

Gelli was born in 1919 and first became involved in politics as part of the fascist movement of Benito Mussolini.

He later volunteered to fight for Gen Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and went on to join neo-fascist parties.

He joined the freemasons in the 1960s and founded the P2 lodge in 1970. A list of alleged members was later discovered by Italian police - and included one Silvio Berlusconi, the future prime minister.

Gelli was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud linked to the collapse of a bank with ties to the Vatican - but never served significant prison time.

The bank's boss Roberto Calvi - known as "God's banker" for his ties to the Vatican - was found hanged under a bridge in London in 1982, and prosecutors later said they believed he had been murdered.

'Always a fascist'

Gelli was also found guilty of obstructing justice during investigations into the 1980 explosion at the Bologna train station which killed 85 people.

He absconded from house arrest in 1998 after he had previously escaped from a prison in Switzerland. He was re-arrested four months later.

Attempts to have members of the P2 group jailed for political conspiracy and attempting to destabilise the state finally failed in 1994.

At a news conference in 1999, Gelli said: "I am a fascist and will die a fascist."

Italy has yet to discover the truth behind many of the mysteries he left behind, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Rome.

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