Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into allegations of collusion between Russia and the ruling League party following media reports of a secret meeting.
The meeting allegedly took place between Russian officials and Gianluca Savoini, a close aide to deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.
Those present reportedly discussed an oil deal that would enable funds to be transferred to the party.
Mr Salvini has denied the allegations.
He told reporters that the League party “never took a rouble, a euro, a dollar or a litre of financing vodka from Russia”.
Mr Savoini told Italian media on Thursday that he met a group of unnamed businessmen but also denies any wrongdoing.
Political parties are forbidden from accepting donations from foreign organisations under Italian law.
What did the media reports say?
Italian news website L’Espresso reported in February that Mr Savoini had met Russian businessmen in October 2018 about a possible oil deal that would funnel money to the League party.
On Wednesday, Buzzfeed published a transcript of an audio recording it had received where Mr Savoini can be heard discussing an oil deal.
The article stated that six men – three Russians, three Italians – gathered in the Metropol hotel to discuss the terms of the deal and can be heard alluding to the fact that such a deal is illegal under Italian law.
“We want to change Europe,” Mr Savoini is allegedly heard saying on the recording, which the BBC has not been able to independently verify.
Neither report was able to confirm if any deal went ahead after the alleged meeting.
Prosecutors opened the investigation following the publication of the Espresso article in February but news of the probe had not been reported until after the Buzzfeed article was released.
What does the League party think of Russia?
Mr Salvini favours closer relations with Russia and has paid several visits to Moscow in recent years.
He has expressed admiration for President Putin and denounced EU sanctions on Russia on a number of occasions.
On a visit to Rome on 4 July, Mr Putin told the Corriere della Sera newspaper “Mr Salvini has a welcoming attitude towards our country”.
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