Acting on allegations that initially surfaced in February, Italian prosecutors are seeking answers to whether Deputy PM Matteo Salvini’s League party has made arrangements to receive money from Russia before European elections in May.
The controversy over Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's League (Lega) party allegedly taking money from Russia to influence the recent European elections has now surrounded Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is scheduled to address the issue before the country's senate on Wednesday.
BuzzFeed News has a transcript of an audio recording at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, Russia, in which six men, three Russians and three Italians, can be heard. The news outlet has identified one of the Italians as Gianluca Savoini, whom it describes as “a close aide of Europe’s most powerful far-right leader, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini”.
According to BuzzFeed News, the men are negotiating a deal to secretly channel tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money to the Northern League party, which would be against Italian electoral law.
The tape allegedly contains a recording made on October 18, 2018 in Moscow and details how about $65 million would be transferred to the European election campaign of Salvini’s League party.
BuzzFeed News has noted that at the time of the meeting in 2018, while it was legal for Italian parties to accept money from foreign donors, the amount was capped at 100,000 euros. This loophole was closed in January 2019. Even considering the 2018 law, the amount that the League party stood to gain from the Russian oil deal was much more.
Conte, the head of a coalition between the League and the populist Five Star Movement, according to the Guardian, said he would speak to the parliament after Salvini. Conte has not responded to the allegations in any detail.
Salvini has categorically rejected the allegations, denying the claims that the League has taken any money from Russia in an oil deal brokered by his aide Savoini. The allegations, which initially surfaced in February in L’Espresso magazine, alarmed Italian prosecutors who opened an investigation into the relations between the League and Moscow.
In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in early July, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “the speculations about Russia’s interference in the electoral processes in the European Union” was political maneuvering, “as if to give the Europeans a ‘hint’ that it was ‘Russia’s malicious interference’ which was to blame for such low results of certain political forces in the elections”.
Putin believes the people who have spread these rumours are trying to “demonise” Russia “in the eyes of ordinary Europeans”.
Putin went on to clearly state: “We have never interfered in the internal affairs of the European Union member states or any other states and we are not going to.”
He also accused: “This is what makes us markedly different from the US and some of its allies which, for instance, supported the coup d’etat in Ukraine in February 2014.”