An international lawyer has come forward to say he, along with a close aide of Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister, was one of the Italians who took part in a meeting in Moscow in October where a proposed Russian-Italian oil deal was discussed.
Three days after BuzzFeed News revealed a bombshell recording of the negotiation at Moscow’s Metropol hotel Oct. 18 about the proposed deal that would have secretly channeled millions to Matteo Salvini’s Lega party, Gianluca Meranda wrote a letter to Italian newspaper La Repubblica confirming that a meeting took place and that longtime Salvini aide Gianluca Savoini was present.
Meranda, who said he’d been a lawyer for 20 years, said the transactions had not been completed and that he was prepared to fully cooperate with public prosecutors who are now investigating the proposed deal over possible international corruption.
“I confirm that I met Dr. Gianluca Savoini and appreciated his absolute lack of personal interest in the few meetings we had in relation to these negotiations,” wrote Meranda, who said he was acting in the negotiation as general counsel for an unnamed “Anglo-American investment bank … interested in acquiring Russian oil products.”
While he could not name the other parties involved because of “the code of legal secrecy,” he continued: “The other participants at the Oct. 18 meeting were professionals who, with varying degrees of focus on this subject, are experts in international transactions of both the specific product [oil products] that at the time was the subject of the negotiations.
“As often is the case in this sector, despite the efforts by all parties, the transaction was not completed.”
On the recording published by BuzzFeed News, Savoini, Meranda, an Italian referred to on the tape as “Francesco,” and the three Russians discussed the technical details of the proposed deal, which would have covertly channeled about $65 million to Salvini’s party over a year.
The men made clear that the purpose of the proposed deal was not to make money for themselves but to fund Lega and its European election campaign.
Under Italian law at the time, it was illegal for parties to accept donations over 100,000 euros, and since January, money from foreign donors has been banned altogether.
BuzzFeed News also published a full transcript of the recording.
Savoini can be heard on the tape stating that he was fine with the Russians taking extra “commission” for themselves from the proposed deal — described later in the meeting as “an amount to be returned” to them.
“They take even 400 or whatever the fuck they need to take,” he can be heard telling one of the other Italians. “It doesn’t matter. It’s a guarantee. It means they will always do that and for us it’s OK.”
In his letter to La Repubblica, Meranda said he had been surprised to learn from the media “that this meeting has led the public prosecutor to open an inquiry into international corruption or illegal funding to political parties.”
He continued: “I openly confess that I have not voted in 10 years. I have never been involved in funding political parties. I have never held any party role nor do I intend to begin now.
“As a man of law I understand that it is not my role to establish whether a crime has been committed, and should there be an investigation, I would be at the total disposal of prosecutors.”
His letter ended with a plea for a better kind of politics in Italy. “As a free man of good character, however, I hope that the country will free itself soon from this unbearable way of doing politics.”
Italian prosecutors announced Thursday that their investigation into the Metropol meeting had been ongoing since February, when some details of the Metropol meeting were first reported by the Italian magazine L’Espresso. Investigators are focusing on a hypothesis of “international corruption,” according to Italian media reports, which said Savoini is central to the inquiry.
Salvini has gone to great lengths to distance himself from his longtime aide since news of the investigation was made public. He told reporters Friday morning that he did not know why Savoini attended an official trip to Moscow last July, which included a private meeting with the Russian interior minister.
Savoini told BuzzFeed News at the time that he was a “member of the minister’s staff.”
He said that he’d been a member of Salvini’s Lega party since 1991 and had always been a part of Salvini’s staff even before the now–interior minister entered government. He also explained that he’d helped organize all of Salvini’s trips to Moscow and had taken part in past meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014, as well as with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other senior Russian officials.
However, Savoini declined to expand on the precise nature of his role and duties in the minister’s staff and whether these went beyond facilitating connections between Salvini and Moscow.
“I don’t have an office at the ministry, but collaborate directly with Matteo Salvini on the basis of his requests. As we’ve known each other since forever,” he wrote in emails sent on July 17, 2018.