'Not one ruble': Italy's Salvini denies his party took Russian money

Remigio Civitarese
Luglio 12, 2019

A leaked audio recording published by a news website allegedly reveals that Matteo Salvini's Italian right-wing Lega Party sought to funnel millions of euros in Russian oil money into its campaign coffers.

BuzzFeed News said it obtained a recording of a meeting between three Russians and three Italians at a hotel in Moscow, including Salvini's close associate and former spokesman Gianluca Savoini, who now heads a pro-Russian cultural institute in Italy.

Savoini, a former spokesman for Salvini who heads a pro-Russia cultural association, told the Agi news agency on Wednesday that the League had not taken any money from Russian Federation.

Savoini told the Italian media on Thursday that he had met a group of unnamed businessmen but denies any wrongdoing and says the League did not receive any money from the Russians.

Two sources with knowledge of the case told Reuters magistrates opened their probe following the publication of the article in L'Espresso.

Reached by the Guardian in February, Savoini, described as the League's emissary in Moscow, in an email declined to comment onthe "fake news".

Political parties are forbidden from accepting donations from foreign organisations under Italian law.

Mr Salvini favours closer relations with Russian Federation and has paid several visits to Moscow in recent years.

He has expressed admiration for President Putin and denounced European Union sanctions on Russian Federation on a number of occasions.

Putin visited Rome last week and praised Salvini, telling Corriere della Sera newspaper he was "in constant contact" with the League. "Salvini has a welcoming attitude towards our country", the Russian leader said.

Savoini (circled) is seen in the background at the government dinner for Putin hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Opposition parties in Italy have called for an immediate investigation. Salvini warned at the time that his party faced bankruptcy.

According to the transcript, the men discussed ways to channel money to the League ahead of May's European Parliament elections, which, if followed through on, would break Italian rules on party financing.

Salvini is deputy prime minister and interior minister in the Italian government, which is comprised of a fragile coalition between the League and the populist Five Star Movement party.

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