Italian prosecutors open probe into League funding from Russia

Milan prosecutors on Thursday opened a probe into alleged funds received by the far-right League party from Russia, as it was reported by the US news site Buzzfeed. Prosecutors have posited possible charges of international corruption in the case, judicial sources said, cited by ANSA.

League leader Matteo Salvini, the deputy premier and interior minister, on Thursday reiterated that "we have had zero Russian funds, it's clear that we are treading on someone's toes". Salvini said earlier on Wednesday he had never taken money from Russia and was ready to sue anyone who said he had. Responding to the Buzzfeed report on an alleged meeting between men close to him and Kremlin officials, Salvini said "I have already sued for libel in the past, I'll do so again today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. "I've never taken a rouble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of vodka in funding from Russia," he pointed out. Buzzfeed said that a member of Salvini's entourage, Gianluca Savoini, met on 18 October another five people, two Italians and three Russians, in Moscow's Hotel Metropol. An audio file allegedly shows them "negotiating the terms of a deal to send millions of dollars, the fruit of profits from Russian oil, to Salvini's party, through a secret channel". There was no evidence the transaction took place, the website reported. Salvini had been in Moscow at the same time as the alleged meeting in a city hotel, but there was no suggestion he took part in the discussions.

Savoini, president of the Lombardy-Russia association and the League's emissary in Moscow, told ANSA "I never received a rouble from any of the persons cited (in the report)".

Salvini has looked to forge close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has paid several visits to Moscow in recent years, Reuters recalls. He has repeatedly denounced EU economic sanctions on Russia and pledged to try to overturn them. Putin visited Rome a week ago and praised Salvini, telling Corriere della Sera newspaper he was “in constant contact” with the League.

Buzzfeed released a full transcript of the audio but did not say how it had obtained the recording. Its release came two months after Austria’s far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to resign following a video sting when he appeared to offer to fix government contracts for a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece in exchange for campaign support.

 

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