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Italian ex-PM Renzi to face trial over political funding

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi protested his innocence on Thursday as he faces trial over the alleged illegal financing of his meteoric rise to power.

Italian ex-PM Renzi to face trial over political funding
Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister and current leader of the Italia Viva party. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

A total of 11 people face charges as part of an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the funding of Open, a group that backed Renzi’s political activities.

Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, accused prosecutors in the Tuscan city of abusing their power during their probe, which has dragged on for years and which he insists will “draw a blank”.

“I am innocent,” the 47-year-old told Radio Leopolda.

 A pre-trial hearing has been set for April 4th, and a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a full trial.

PROFILE: Who is Matteo Renzi, the ‘wrecker’ of Italian politics?

The probe, which began in 2019, followed allegations money from the Open foundation was illegally used by Renzi during his rise from mayor to head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) before becoming prime minister in 2014.

Prosecutors argue Renzi was the de facto director of Open, which received 3.5 million euros from wealthy backers – money he and allies spent on political activities.

One such expense was the chartering by Renzi in 2018 of a jet for 135,000 euros – paid for by Open – to get him to a Robert Kennedy memorial service in the US, according to Repubblica, which cited prosecution documents.

The probe also targets another 10 people including two ex-ministers close to Renzi, plus four companies, one of which is British American Tobacco Italia.

Renzi stands accused of the crime of illegal financing of political parties, along with former president of Open, Alberto Bianchi, and ex-ministers Maria Elena Boschi and Luca Lotti.

Among the alleged crimes are illegal party financing, corruption, money laundering and trafficking of influence.

Former Italian prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party (PD) Matteo Renzi in 2018. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Renzi, now leader of the centrist Italia Viva party, accused the prosecutors of a “hate campaign” against him and his family.

“They’ve got the wrong man. I’m not afraid. I want truth and justice,” he said.

Renzi is nicknamed “il rottamatore” (the wrecker) – some say due to his habit of bringing down coalition governments, including his own in 2016.

At the age of 39, he became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister since Benito Mussolini. But his centrist policies and increasingly arrogant style antagonised trade unions as well as the broader public.

He led a referendum campaign for constitutional reforms in 2016, but it turned into a plebiscite against him and when he lost, he was forced to quit.

Renzi later broke with the PD and founded the small Italia Viva, which is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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