Saturday July 20, 2019
What did the Italian Interior Minister Salvini know about a meeting at a hotel in Moscow, which also involved illegal financing for his Lega party? The Deputy Prime Minister becomes entangled in unlikely apologies.
The Moscow affair, which broke into the political life of Italy almost two weeks ago, is becoming more and more dangerous from day to day for the right-wing national leader of the Lega party, Matteo Salvini. It is about dubious relations between Russia and Salvini followers, it is about a large supply of Russian crude oil and a suspected illegal party donation. It is about a secret meeting in Moscow and the suspicion that Russia is trying to influence Italian politics through the Salvini party. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Austrian Ibiza affair. With the difference that it does not start on the Spanish island in the Mediterranean, but in the Russian capital. And that the Italian government has not yet broken it.
Moscow, October 18, 2018, 9.30 am: Six men – three Italians and three Russians – sit in the lobby of the Hotel Metropol, discussing a delivery of $ 1.5 billion Russian oil and a resulting donation of € 65 million Lega. The financial settlement must take place through intermediaries and banks. Political donations from abroad are prohibited in Italy, but the goal apparently justifies the means. Because the party does not want to enrich the money, one of the Italians explains. "In May there are EU elections, we want to change Europe … (…) Salvini is the first man who wants to change Europe."
Ten days ago, the Buzzfeed news site released the audio recording of this meeting. The excitement was great and worsened after the Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Salvini rejected the content as gossip and the Senate President refused to put the issue on the agenda. The Parliament did not gossip, she replied to the protesting opposition. The defensive maneuver went backwards and only caused more curiosity.
Who were the men at the table, what was it all about? Buzzfeed could only identify one of the interviewees: Gianluca Savoini, once a spokesperson for Salvinis, who also had contacts with the right-wing extremist scene in his youth. Today, he plays an important role in networking Lega with Russia through his cultural association founded in 2014 in Lombardy-Russia. The association's website shows that the organization is not a party, but shares the worldview of President Vladimir Putin.
The hunt for the names of the other two Italians in the hotel was completed after a few days. The Roman lawyer Gianluca Meranda, whose international law firm mainly serves Italian and foreign oil companies and commercial banks, wrote the La Repubblica newspaper himself and described himself as the "General Counsel of an Anglo-German commercial bank" in whose name he attended the meeting. Metropol participated. The deal was ultimately not reached. The third Italian, Francesco Vannucci, is a former bank clerk and now a Meranda employee. Of the three Russians, there is no official identification. But the suspicion is that Ilya Andreevich Yakunin could have been one of them, who has a good relationship with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kosak.
The refusals for the sound recording came immediately. The Italian energy group ENI, which had been designated as the buyer of the oil industry, and the investment bank Euro-IB, in whose name Maranda had reportedly acted, had some involvement in it. And an official statement also came from Russia. Putin & # 39; s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the Italian news agency Ansa: "The Kremlin has never given money to Italian parties or politicians."
The intelligence services also determine
The statement did not prevent the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office from launching investigations into suspected illegal party funding against the three Italians and conducting house searches. But the Moscow affair beats even higher waves. The parliamentary constitutional committee has appointed the head of the foreign service to find out more about the Lombardia-Russia association. This has long been a target of the intelligence services because of the interconnections in Russia and in the separatist Donbass. What if it is a Trojan horse with which Russia now wants to influence Italian politics, where the benevolent Lega is in power?
Salvini responded with emphatic serenity and refused to answer questions in parliament. He never got a ruble from the Russians, he repeated tirelessly. As for Mr Savoini, he acted on his own initiative. But hardly a day goes by without new pieces of the puzzle appearing. The more details are revealed, the more driven the boss of Lega. Even taking his distance from his former spokesman seems incredible, because no matter how strange he claims, those two probably didn't become.
The secret meeting
Return to Moscow. On October 17, 2018, the day before the Metropol negotiations, Salvini was also in the Russian capital. The Italian trade association in Russia had invited him to a forum. After his speech, in which he, contrary to the official position of the government, which he knows he called sanctions against Russia as "economic, social and cultural madness", should actually fly back immediately. At least that was the protocol of the Italian ambassador. But the next day, Salvini placed at 11:00 in the morning selfie with beer and hamburgers and the following text: "After meeting Italian entrepreneurs and Russian ministers, small snack for the diet at the airport # Moscow." If he has met, he cannot remember the best will, he answers today.
But at the end of February the Italian weekly "L & # 39; Espresso" reported at a secret meeting after the forum. Salvini would have met that night with Kosak, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister. Then it went to the luxurious restaurant Rusky for dinner, in which his former spokesperson Savoini took part. Twelve hours later the meeting took place at the Metropol. Could it be that Savoini did not tell him anything about the meeting the next day?
Whether Salvini will stay behind in apologies or, ultimately, to go to Parliament is not certain. Perhaps the decision of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will help him make a different decision. He announced that he would like to inform Parliament on July 24 about Italy's relationship with Russia. It will be interesting to see what he has to say. Whether and how much the Moscow affair will harm Salvini remains to be seen. At the moment it seems that at least it has tempered his desire for early elections, because until the suspicions are clear, he would be unbearable as prime minister.
(TagToTranslate) Politics (t) Matteo Salvini (t) FPÖ-Ibiza video (t) Moscow (t) Russia (t) Vladimir Putin (t) Italy (t) Lega Nord