Italian prosecutors are investigating allegations of illicit Russian funding of the far-right League party of Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, media reports said on July 11.
Prosecutors in Milan are probing the possible crime of 'international corruption' and have already conducted some interrogations, the reports said.
The investigation comes following media reports about a meeting that allegedly took place between Russian officials and one of Salvini's close aides where they reportedly discussed a secret oil deal.
Salvini has denied the allegations.
Italian weekly L'Espresso reported in February that former Salvini spokesman Gianluca Savoini had met Russian businessmen in October 2018 about a possible oil deal that would funnel money to the League party.
The U.S. website BuzzFeed reported on July 10 it had received an audio recording of the Moscow meeting and published a transcript where Savoini can be heard discussing a covert oil transaction.
The website said that there was no evidence that such a transaction subsequently took place.
Salvini was in Moscow at the time the meeting allegedly took place, but there was no suggestion he took part. He has previously visited Moscow and been seen in T-shirts praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It was not immediately clear if the Milan probe was started in reaction to the BuzzFeed article or following the report by L'Espresso.
Moscow has attempted to establish ties with far-right European populist movements in recent years.
Putin said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that his United Russia party was working closely with Salvini's anti-migrant League party.
Based on reporting by dpa, Reuters, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036