Italy ends probe of alleged aid to pro-Russia politicians

·2 min read

ROME (AP) — Milan prosecutors have dropped their investigation of Italian lobbyists who allegedly sought Russian funding for right-wing leader Matteo Salvini’s pro-Moscow party.

State TV said investigators concluded that they had no grounds to continue the probe into alleged illegal party financing involving three Italians, including a close associate of Salvini, the leader of the League party, a coalition partner in Italy’s right-wing government.

The alleged scheme aimed to buy oil at a discount from Rosneft, a Russian energy company, then sell it at full price to Italian energy giant ENI. Some $64 million in hoped-for profit would have allegedly ended up in great part in the League’s coffers, prosecutors had hypothesized.

But Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported Friday that prosecutors concluded no such deal ever came to fruition. That, plus “total” lack of Russian cooperation with investigators, convinced prosecutors to shelve the probe, which looked into talks by the lobbyists and some Russian contacts in October 2018 at the Metropol hotel in Moscow, the daily said.

Salvini was jubilant.

“The inquest into the presumed Russian funds in the Metropol case was shelved,'' he tweeted. ”Now we expect apologies from so many, and we are preparing lawsuits against many."

A longtime admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Salvini himself was never among those under investigation. Salvini, who now serves as infrastructure minister in Premier Giorgia Meloni's government, has long insisted that neither he nor his League has ever taken “one ruble” from Russians.

Among those investigated was a former spokesman for Salvini, lobbyist Gianluca Savoini, who had denied wrongdoing. The lobbyist had long sought closer Italian-Russian ties through an association based in Lombardy, the affluent northern Italian region which is a League powerbase.

The prosecutors also had been looking into alleged roles by three Russians.

The Associated Press