Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini bowed to demands on Tuesday to address parliament on allegations that his right-wing League party had sought illegal funding from Russia, saying he would take questions on the topic in regular question time.
Salvini’s coalition partner and opposition parties have been pressing him to make a parliamentary statement since U.S. website Buzzfeed reported last week that a Salvini aide had sought to use an oil deal to divert Russian funds to the League.
Buzzfeed published audio recordings of a Moscow meeting in which a possible oil deal was discussed. There is no evidence that a deal was struck, and Salvini has denied any knowledge of the meeting or that the aide, Gianluca Savoini, acted for him.
Savoini has declined comment on the allegations, the subject of a criminal investigation. Milan prosecutors questioned him for about an hour on Monday but he exercised his right to silence, said two sources familiar with the matter.
Salvini has denied that the League took any money from Moscow, adding he would sue anyone who accused him of such crimes. It is illegal for Italian political parties to accept foreign funding.
“I certainly will go to parliament,” Salvini told reporters in the northern Italian city of Genoa.
“I go there twice a week for the question time session, during which I respond about all human knowledge,” he quipped.
Attempts to distance himself
Opposition parties called for Salvini to give a detailed parliamentary statement rather than use the weekly question time, which restricts answers to three minutes each.
Salvini has denied that he is close to Savoini, who heads a pro-Russia cultural association, but Italian newspapers have published several photographs of the pair together, including during trips to Moscow.
Savoini was also pictured at an official dinner in Rome this month for visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Salvini had requested Savoini be added to the guest list, the Italian prime minister’s office said on Sunday. Salvini has denied doing this.
Conte’s other deputy premier, Five-Star Leader Luigi Di Maio, called Tuesday for Salvini to appear in Parliament to respond as did the Five-Star president of the lower chamber, Roberto Fico.
Salvini in the past has spoken favourably of Russia’s policies, and has even been photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt.