Savoini appeals to high court agst tape

Allegedly discussed Russian funding for League

(ANSA) - Rome, October 9 - Gianluca Savoini, a nationalist populist League member suspected of discussing possible funding from Russia, on Wednesday appealed to the supreme Court of Cassation against a prosecutor's use of an audio tape from a Moscow hotel in which he is allegedly heard talking about possible oil kickbacks.
    On September 10 a Milan court rejected an appeal from Savoini against police seizures of property, based on the content of the tape, in an international corruption probe.
    Savoini, president of the Lombardy-Russia association, is heard on an audio tape taken at a Russian hotel talking about the possibility of receiving funding from oil kickbacks.
    His lawyer said the audio tape was inadmissible.
    But the court disagreed, ruling that its seizure was legitimate.
    Savoini is the former spokesman of League leader Matteo Salvini, who has dismissed the case as "fantasy".
    But the disclosure that Salvini arranged for Savoini to be present at a Rome meeting with a Russian delegation has caused embarrassment for the anti-migrant Euroskeptic leader.
    Savoini's defence lawyers said Thursday that the audio tape in which he is allegedly heard at a Moscow hotel asking for 65 million euros in Russian oil kickbacks is unusable.
    Prosecutors said the tape made at the Metropol hotel in October where Savoini and two other Italians met three Russians is admissible as evidence in support of property seizures made from Savoini earlier this year.
    The prosecutors said they had seized Savoini's property including computers as evidence in the case.
    Investigative sources said there were no phone or other contacts between Savoini and League leader Salvini.
    Two out of three Russians present at the meeting where Salvini's former spokesman allegedly asked for Russian funding have been identified, BuzzFeed said a week ago.
    Savoini met the Russians on October 18 along with two other Italians, a lawyer and a former banker, and allegedly discussed the funding, which was never eventually made, via oil kickbacks.
    The two Russians were named by BuzzFeed as Andrey Yuryevich Kharchenko and Ilya Andreevich Yakunin.
    A confirmation of their identities came from sources close to the investigation regarding Savoini.
    Yakunin's name had already emerged and the two Russians, BuzzFeed said, have links to "far-right demagogue" Aleksandr Dugin and to Vladimir Pligin, a politician close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Prosecutors believe that the October meeting at the Metropol was not the first held in relation to the negotiation, sources said last month.
    Former Salvini spokesman Savoini is under investigation on suspicion of international corruption over the case.
    Italian newsweekly L'Espresso and US news site Buzzfeed reported that Savoini and two other Italians met three Russians in the Moscow hotel to discuss siphoning off an alleged 65 million euros from oil profits.
    Salvini has so far failed to report to parliament about the case, saying that he does not need to talk about "fantasies" and that he has not taken a rouble from the Russians.
    Prosecutors think that the operation that was allegedly talked about never came to fruition, sources said.
    The investigators have obtained a recording of the talks at the Metropol hotel from the L'Espresso journalist who wrote the expose'.
    The conversation may have been recorded on one of the mobile phones of one of the Italians present.
    Savoini is under investigation for international corruption along with lawyer Gianluca Meranda and former banker Francesco Vannucci.
    Meranda and Vannucci said last Tuesday they would not be appealing against the seizures of property, also saying the tape that was confiscated had no viable evidence on it.