At least one of the five anonymous conspirators—two Italians and three Russians—who were chatting amiably at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow on Oct. 18 about underhanded oil deals worth millions of euros, now has a name. His name is Gianluca Meranda, who is clearly the “Luca” from the recording published by Buzzfeed News, who was described as a “banker.”
He is actually an international lawyer, and he voluntarily stepped forward and contacted the journalists from La Repubblica who are investigating the case, putting out a public letter that the newspaper published on Saturday. In the letter, he says that he took part in the meeting in his role as General Counselor for an investment bank, which probably accounts for the ambiguous references to him as a “banker.”
Meranda brings confirmation that the meeting actually happened—a fact that was impossible to deny in any case. The participants did indeed talk about the now-infamous oil deal, but, “[a]s often is the case in this sector, despite the efforts by all parties, the transaction was not completed.” In the end, he claims, nothing came of that meeting.
Meranda doesn’t breathe a word about the “incentive” worth millions of euros which was supposed to end up in the coffers of the Lega ahead of the European election campaign. However, he defends Gianluca Savoini, saying that he “appreciated his absolute lack of personal interest in the few meetings we had in relation to these negotiations,” and says that he is ready to speak to prosecutors Gaetano Ruta and Sergio Spadaro, who are investigating the affair. He will certainly be called in for questioning, and the Milan prosecutor’s office is not excluding a possible letter rogatory to Russia in order to ascertain possible movements of capital.
In reality, as the deal was not concluded, it is more or less impossible to hold the leader of the Lega accountable. It would be necessary to prove that Gianluca Savoini was speaking on his behalf, and, since the bribe referred to was not actually paid, this would not be an easy feat.
However, the Lega is getting more and more nervous, a fact shown by Matteo Salvini’s clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to deny the facts in plain sight. The Lega leader keeps pretending that he had no idea what Savoini was doing last October in the meeting with Russian industrialists in Moscow—a man who had accompanied Salvini on at least nine separate trips to Russia, and whom Salvini himself described in writing (not in a surreptitious recording) in 2014 as his “official representative,” together with Claudio D’Amico (a statement by the Lega leader which was dug up by the Democrat Flippo Sensi). Sputnik News, Vladimir Putin’s mouthpiece, even called Savoini the man “in charge of relations with Russia on the part of the Northern League.” Not to mention all the responsibilities, not at all minor ones, that Savoini has fulfilled within the Lega in his role as spokesman.
Salvini and the whole of the Lega’s leadership are doing little to hide the fact that they suspect they have been the victims of a deliberate trap. Privately, even among high-level officials, there are some who are adamant that this is an operation aimed at creation of a government supported by every party except the Lega, which would remain in office not just for a few months, but until the end of the legislature. According to the Five Stars, it was the need to divert attention from the Russian scandal that lay behind the manufactured crisis around the “Sicurezza bis” (“Security 2”) decree last month, an artificial scandal expertly constructed around disagreements which were otherwise easy to overcome.
As is obvious, the PD is all hands on deck: the charge this time is not mere corruption, but treason. Accordingly, the PD’s treasurer, Luigi Zanda, did not hesitate to demand the resignation of the Interior Minister. However, the Five Stars are speaking in hushed tones, knowing that if they were to raise their voices too much, the fate of the government would be sealed. It is no coincidence that on Friday, even though he had defended the government in much more turbulent times, Salvini allowed rumors of a possible crisis to circulate for the first time. This was a warning addressed first and foremost to his government allies.
They should be careful not to be drawn into the campaign by the Fatto Quotidiano, which is pulling no punches in going after the Lega leader—because this time, there would be no talk about “closing the window” a bit more: Salvini would leave the negotiating table altogether. Di Maio is aware of this, and has no intention of blowing up his stint in government on account of Russian rubles. That is, as long as the scandal doesn’t grow to the point that it leaves him with no alternative.
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