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Italy's League party faces bankruptcy over fraud

September 6, 2018

A court has ruled that millions of euros in assets can be seized from the far-right League party, now part of Italy’s ruling coalition. Party leader Matteo Salvini was defiant, saying the fraud was now history.

taly's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini looks on during a news conference in Rome

Italy's right-wing Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini appeared to shrug off the news that a court had authorized the seizure of €49 million ($59 million) from the League party on Thursday.

"I'm not the least bit upset because the trial regards things that happened eight, nine years ago," Salvini said after an appeals court in Rome accepted demands from a court in Genoa to be able to seize whatever funds they can until the full amount is recouped.

"It is a thing of the past ... if they want to strip us of everything, they can go ahead, we'll calmly continue to do politics; we have Italians behind us."

Salvini: a polarizing figure

Salvini, who has turned the party into a national political force since he took over in 2013, has repeatedly said that he has never seen the missing money. 

"I hope that the Genoa court will spend more of its time on the matter of the collapsed bridge," Salvini said after the decision, referring to the Ponte Morandi disaster last month, which killed 43 people.

Read more: Italy populists backtrack on Genoa bridge fears ‘fairytale’

The money was embezzled between 2008 and 2010 from public funds to finance political parties. Former League Leader Umberto Bossi and a former party treasurer were both found guilty of the fraud last year, but the Genoa court that convicted them was only able to track down €3 million.

League lawyers insist the party only has €5.5 million, which comes from donations. Judicial sources say the other funds may have been moved abroad.

The League's popularity has soared since it formed a coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement in June, with Salvini — who also serves as interior minister — taking a tough line on immigration by refusing NGO migrant rescue ships access to Italian ports.

rc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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