Italy’s ruling party accused of taking illegal Russian money
Investigation launched into whether far-right League sought funds from Russian oil deal
Italy’s far-right ruling League party is being investigated over allegations it sought illegal funds from a Russian oil deal, in the latest evidence of high-level collusion between far-right European populist parties and Moscow.
Prosecutors in Milan have opened an inquiry into following an investigation by L’Espresso magazine that alleged an arrangement to sell three million tonnes of diesel to an Italian oil company by Russian representatives close to Vladimir Putin’s government.
The allegations centre on a meeting between a member of League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s entourage, two other Italians and three Russians in Moscow last October.
This week, BuzzFeed News published an audio recording it said was of that meeting “in which a close aide of [Salvini] and the other five men can be heard negotiating the terms of a deal to covertly channel tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money to Salvini’s party, the League”.
Political parties are forbidden from accepting donations from foreign organisations under Italian law.
Salvini has denied the allegations, telling reporters that the League party “never took a rouble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of financing vodka from Russia”.
“There’s no evidence that the deal, which would have violated Italian campaign-finance law, ever happened. But that’s hardly the point,” says The Atlantic. “The audio showed incontrovertible if shadowy aspects of Russian reach into European politics and raised questions about business dealings in the sottobosco, or undergrowth, of the League.”
The Guardian, meanwhile, says the claims “raised questions about the relationship between the Kremlin and the anti-immigrant party”, which is in a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
According to the BBC, “Salvini favours closer relations with Russia and has paid several visits to Moscow in recent years. He has expressed admiration for President Putin and denounced EU sanctions on Russia on a number of occasions.”
“If money did change hands it would not be the first time a far-Right politician has accepted money from the Russians,” says The Daily Telegraph.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Assembly, took €11m in loans from Russian banks in 2014 while in Austria, far-Right FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down after he was filmed discussing a deal where public contracts would be swapped for Russian campaign support.
Brexit campaign financer Arron Banks has also been accused of discussing diamond and gold deals with the Russian embassy to fund the 2016 EU referendum and as a result is under investigation by the National Crime Agency.