Italian prosecutors launched an investigation on Thursday into allegations that a Russian oil deal was brokered to fund interior minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party.
Buzzfeed News published an audio recording of what it claims was a meeting between Russian officials and a former close associate of Mr Salvini negotiating the deal, which would have seen tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money secretly sent to the pro-Moscow League party.
“We want to change Europe,” Mr Salvini’s former spokesman Gianluca Savoini said in the recording. “A new Europe has to be close to Russia as before because we want to have our sovereignty.”
The meeting was alleged to have taken place at the Metropol hotel in Moscow in 2018, however, Mr Salvoini denies that it took place.
Mr Savoini claims he went to the Metropol hotel to meet with local entrepreneurs.
Buzzfeed said it did not know whether the alleged deal had ever gone ahead.
Mr Salvini said on Thursday his party has never taken Russian funds, which would constitute a breach of Italian electoral law banning political parties from accepting significant foreign donations.
The hardline minister said in a statement he had “never taken a ruble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of vodka in financing from Russia”.
Mr Salvini has previously expressed pro-Kremlin sympathies and opposition to economic sanctions against Russia.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said his colleagues in Moscow were “in constant contact” with the League during a visit to Rome last week.
Politicians from the opposition Democratic Party have demanded that a parliamentary inquiry be held. They have asked to question Mr Salvini, Mr Savoini, Italy’s ambassador to Moscow and the Buzzfeed journalist who made the allegations.
Similar allegations about Mr Salvini’s associates meeting Russian investors were made by Italian magazine L’Espresso in February. However, the claims lacked evidence.