Italy’s Prime Minister Denies Russia’s Influence, Defends Salvini in ‘Russiagate’ Scandal
Salvini’s refusal to appear inn the Italian Senate over the so called Russiagate has angered his ruling coalition partners from the leftist Five Stars Movement.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared that his government has not been influenced by Russia in a Senate speech he gave on Wednesday evening on the so called “Russiagate” scandal caused by media reports the ruling far-right League party tried to procure for itself illegal Russian funding.
The scandal erupted after in early July US-based news site BuzzFeed said it had a 75-minute audio recording of talks in Moscow between three Italians, including Gianluca Savoini – a close aide of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Interior Minister and League party leader Matteo Salvini – and three unidentified Russians.
In the talks, which were reported to have taken place on October 18, 2018, the six men allegedly discussed a possible deal involving a Russian company selling oil worth USD 1.5 billion at a discounted rate, thus allowing the League to receive part of the difference.
While Buzzfeed made it clear it had no evidence that the deal ever went through, prosecutors in Milan began to investigate the report and Savoini’s actions.
Savoini, who is a journalist married to a Russian and is president of the Lombardy-Russia association, has invoked his right to remain silent before prosecutors.
On July 10, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Salvini denied the reports about his party seeking illegal Russian funding, and has since refused to appear before the upper house of the Italian Parliament on the issue.
The first media outlet to report that Salvini’s former spokesman Gianluca Savoini heled talks in Moscow last October with Russian businessmen was Italian news magazine L’Espresso.
In its report from February 2019, it said the potential oil deal was could have diverted a total of EUR 58 million (USD 65 million) to the League party.
In a parliamentary address on Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a compromise figure who has headed the coalition Cabinet of the far-right League and the leftist populist Five Stars Movement since it was established last fall, defended Salvini, the League party, and his government.
“Our position has been coherent, reasonable, and never unduly conditioned by disturbing factors that may have resulted in a deviation from our national interests,” Conte said with respect to “Russiagate”, as cited by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“There are no elements that could undermine my trust in all my ministers,” the Italian Prime Minister added, apparently referring first and foremost to Matteo Salvini.
Conte acknowledged that Savoini had been part of an official interior ministry delegation to Moscow in July and again in October 2018.
However, despite being part of the delegation, Savoini held no official role in the Italian government.
The Italian Prime Minister also insisted that the League party – technically still the junior partner in the governing coalition despite its better performance in May 2019 EU elections – did not dictate the coalition’s foreign policy.
The fact that Salvini himself refused to attend the Senate session angered the members of the Five Stars Movement, the League’s coalition partner, who left their seats before Conte began his address.
“Why aren’t we in the chamber? Because Salvini should be in there,” said Stefano Patuanelli, the Italian Senate leader from the Five Stars Movement.
The opposition center-left Democratic Party (PD) is preparing a parliamentary vote of no-confidence on Salvini with the hope of persuading Five Stars Movement dissidents to vote against him in the Italian Senate.
(Banner image: Video grab from La7)