Italy’s election campaign rocked by Russian funding claims

Leaders of Italy's right-wing parties denied receiving funding from Moscow after a US intelligence report this week sparked fresh calls for an investigation into Russian influence in Italian politics.

Italy's election campaign rocked by Russian funding claims
Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) leader Giorgia Meloni speaks in front of an image of her coalition partner, League leader Matteo Salvini during the election campaign. Italian politicians are facing growing calls for an investigation into influence from Moscow. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Brothers of Italy (FdI) leader Giorgia Meloni and League leader Matteo Salvini on Wednesday denied accepting money from Moscow after a US intelligence report sent shockwaves through the campaign for Italy’s September 25th elections.

The US State Department this week released a summary of a recent intelligence review of Russian efforts to influence foreign politics, including funding for unnamed far-right nationalist parties.

READ ALSO: Elections will be Italy’s ‘Brexit’ moment, warns PD leader

According to the report, Russia has given over $300 million to foreign parties, officials and politicians in more than 20 countries since 2014.

The leaders of the Italian hard-right parties expected to win the upcoming election were quick to state that they were not funded by Russia.

“All our forms of financing are verifiable,” said Meloni in an interview with Radio 24.

“I’m certain that Brothers of Italy does not take foreign money”.

Salvini told RTL 102.5 he had “never asked for, and never taken” money from Russia.

Salvini, who is known for his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly denied receiving money from Russia after a recording was leaked in 2019 of one of his aides discussing a secret oil deal in Moscow.

“Investigations have been open for years and nothing has ever been found because there is nothing to find,” he claimed on Wednesday.

Salvini was earlier this year found to have accepted a ticket to Moscow paid for by the Russian embassy, ostensibly for peace talks over Ukraine.

The trip was cancelled and the money reportedly paid back.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Salvini questioned over Russia ties ahead of election campaign

Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the Forza Italy party also running for election along with the League and FdI as part of the right-wing coalition, has not commented so far on accusations of Italian parties being funded or supported by Russia.

Berlusconi is known for having a friendship with Vladimir Putin stretching back two decades.

Giuseppe Conte, leader of the Five Star Movement, which has opposed the sending of more arms to Ukraine, said his party was “transparent” and had no links to Russian funding. He said the alleged interference risked “polluting the electoral campaign with insinuations and inferences.”

There was “no news” of Italian parties being mentioned specifically in the US report at the moment, Adolfo Urso, president of the Italian parliament’s Copasir intelligence oversight board, told national broadcaster Rai.

The report sparked renewed calls for investigations into Russia’s influence over Italian politics, with left-wing politicians calling for any individuals and parties involved to be named before the vote.

Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), called for “transparency” and condemned Russia’s “disturbing” attempts to “contaminate Western democracy” 

He said the current government should reveal anything it knows about Russian influence in politics before the general election.

He also alleged that the League has not cut its longstanding ties with the United Russia party that backs Putin.

READ ALSO: Debt and Russian sanctions: Why cracks are emerging in Italy’s far-right alliance

There has been growing concern over potential interference by Russia in Italian politics since the collapse of the government led by current prime minister Mario Draghi in late July.

The collapse was triggered by parties including the League and Forza Italia, which are known to have historically friendly relations with Moscow.

All parties involved have denied accusations from opponents that their actions were in any way influenced by Russia.

Draghi told parliament in July that Italy must “step up efforts to combat interference from Russia and other autocracies in our politics”.

Member comments

  1. This is U.S. Democrat party’s way of interfering in Italian elections. This their classic strategy. Do the dirty deeds, but accuse somebody else of doing exactly what they are doing. U.S. Intelligence not very reliable or trust worthy. Remember the claim Pres. Trump colluded with Russia and was proven completely false.

  2. Well well!
    Your headline and report do everything to imply strongly, that there are Russian backers of ( only) the right wing parties in the Italian elections.
    Yet, in the detail,
    “ There was no news of Italian parties ( of any side) being mentioned in the US report!” !
    So, how about you report verified claims, based on the truth, instead of constantly fear mongering about the so called “ far right” parties?
    As the Right wing parties have been steadily gaining majority popularity for some many months, it would seem entirely unnecessary for any outside party to need to influence in their favour?
    Sounds as plausible as the last insidious claims made by Hilary Clinton et all into so -called Russian influence in the US elections- al BS!
    So how about getting some reliable objective news reporting?
    Otherwise, I’m so sick of your one sided articles, always promoting the left viewpoint, I will cancel my membership. ( as have friends of mine already!)
    More objective reliable news, please!

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.