Di Maio calls Salvini to chamber over Russia links

Claudio D'Amico (left) and Gianluca Savoini in Moscow, 2018. Photo credit: Il Messaggero

ROME – Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has called on Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to report to parliament over alleged plans to use Russian oil money to finance the League in a post on his Facebook page. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has called for clarity on the issue but reiterates his support for Salvini, according to government sources.

 “If there are suspicions about a party’s finances, you make a commission to enquire [into the matter,” said Di Maio. “We believe it is necessary to guarantee the traceability of funds that a party collects during an electoral campaign,” he wrote on Facebook. This was an appeal which was echoed by the Democratic Party, whose leader Nicola Zingaretti called for “absolute transparency.”

 A transcript published by American online media agency Buzzfeed last week recorded a discussion between three Russians and three Italians which took place last October. The men refer to a “great alliance” and the possibility of channelling tens of millions of dollars of money from Russian oil to the Italian party.

 Conte, on the other hand, argued that the government was not in danger because Gianluca Savoini, one of the men who was present at the meeting in Moscow last October, has never held an official government post. Speaking at the end of the Universiade in Naples, Conte nevertheless said “Obviously, we need transparency.”  

 “I have already made it clear that I have faith in my Interior Minister Salvini,” he went on.

 A statement from the Palazzo Chigi explained the presence of Savoini at the dinner hosted for Russian president Vladimir Putin on July 4, and clarified that he was automatically invited because of links with Claudio D’Amico, one of Salvini’s councillors. Savoini will be interviewed by magistrates Monday.

 Salvini denies taking money from Russia and has responded robustly to the accusations which had already surfaced in February in L’Espresso magazine. "I have already sued for libel in the past, I'll do so again today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.” He added, "I've never taken a rouble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of vodka in funding from Russia." Salvini was not at the meeting but was in Moscow at the time.

 The deal discussed in the meeting involves the sale of huge amounts of oil at discount price by a Russian company to Italian oil company Eni for around 1.5 billion dollars through intermediaries. The money from the discount would then be passed to the League in secret via those intermediaries, an amount which Buzzfeed estimates at around 65 million dollars.

 Eni, an oil and gas company based in Rome, also strongly denies any wrongdoing.

 The deal would be illegal under Italian law, which in January banned Italian parties from receiving funding or support from foreign governments or entities. Before that, it had been legal to accept donations up to 100,000 euros.