Salvini’s far-right party investigated in Italy for ‘soliciting illegal oil money from Russia’

A recording of an alleged meeting at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow has sparked an investigation 

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Thursday 11 July 2019 13:42 BST
Matteo Salvini gained notoriety for his hard-line stance against immigrants
Matteo Salvini gained notoriety for his hard-line stance against immigrants (EPA)

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into allegations that the country’s far-right ruling party solicited millions in covert donations from Russia.

A recording published by the BuzzFeed News website purports to show a close aide to Italy’s de facto leader Matteo Salvini holding covert talks aimed at pumping Russian oil money into the League’s coffers.

The meeting is believed to have taken place at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow on 18 October 2018, though Gianluca Savoini, the aide identified at the meeting, claims it never took place.

“We want to change Europe,” Mr Savoini says in the recording. “A new Europe has to be close to Russia as before because we want to have our sovereignty.”

The deal discussed appears to have been designed to hide the source of the funding: under it, a Russian company would sell three million metric tonnes of fuel to Italian oil company Eni over a year, with the far-right League party getting part of the proceeds.

Milan’s public prosecutor has how launched an investigation into the allegations, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported. Under Italian law it is illegal for parties to accept donations from foreign entities.

It is unclear whether the deal apparently being planned out in the recording ever actually went ahead.

Mr Salvini, who is Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister – but its most high-profile politician – says in a statement his party had “never taken a ruble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of vodka in financing from Russia”.

A spokesperson for Eni, the Italian oil company mentioned, says: “Eni strongly reiterates that in no way it took part to transactions aimed at financing political parties. Moreover, the described supply operation never took place. Eni, in the presence of any statement alleging the involvement of the company in activities aimed at financing political parties, reserves the right to assess the appropriate legal channels and will act strongly to protect its reputation.”

The politician was in Moscow at the time of the alleged meeting but there has been no suggestion that he took part in the discussions over Russian funding.

The opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) demands that Mr Salvini appear in the Italian parliament to address the allegations.

Emanuele Fiano, a PD MP says: “If this happened it would be of unprecedented seriousness. We formally request that the minister answer in the chamber of the house.”

Similar allegations of a meeting between Mr Salvini’s aides and Russian investors were made by Italian magazine L’Espresso in February, but the claims lacked evidence.

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