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Italian PM Conte Defends League Party, Interior Minister Amid 'Russiagate' Scandal

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (file photo)
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (file photo)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has denied that his government has ever been influenced by Russia as he responded in the Senate to allegations surrounding the ruling far-right League party.

Conte said on July 24 that, regarding Russia, "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 was responding to media reports of alleged attempts by the League party’s affiliate to secure millions of dollars in illegal Russian funding in a case labeled by some newspapers as "Russiagate."

On July 10, Matteo Salvini, the head of the League party who serves as interior minister, denied reports that one of his close aides discussed a secret oil deal in Moscow. He refused to appear before parliament on the issue.

Conte reiterated his support for Salvini, saying that "there are no elements that could undermine my trust in all my ministers."

The U.S. website BuzzFeed said it had received a 75-minute audio recording of talks in Moscow on October 18 involving three Italians, including Gianluca Savoini – a close aide of Salvini’s -- and three unidentified Russians.

Buzzfeed said the six men discussed a possible deal involving a Russian company selling oil worth $1.5 billion at a discounted rate, thus allowing the League to receive part of the difference.

Buzzfeed said there was no evidence that the deal ever went through, but prosecutors in Milan said they are probing the issue and have placed Savoini under investigation.

Savoini has invoked his right to remain silent before prosecutors, Italian media reported.

The journalist is married to a Russian and is president of the Lombardy-Russia association.

Based on reporting by dpa, Reuters, and AFP