An aide to Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini allegedly met some Russian officials to discuss details of a fuel delivery, which was meant to “fund a political campaign,” BuzzFeed has claimed in a report.
The meeting allegedly happened on the morning of October 18 last year in the lobby of Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, coinciding with Salvini’s visit to Russia. Six people were at the table, three from each country, with Salvini’s aide Gianluca Savoini being the only one identified by the publication.
BuzzFeed claims the discussion was about Russia’s plan to secretly fund Salvini’s party Liga ahead of the European Parliament elections, although the transcript of the negotiations doesn’t necessarily confirm this assertion.
The one big name mentioned by the Russian side is Vladimir Pligin, a Russian lawyer, wealthy businessman and former MP. He previously chaired the State Duma’s commission on constitutional law and state building, and has a reputation as a liberal-minded politician.
The deal that was allegedly discussed involved the delivery of fuel from Russia to Europe at a four-percent discount. The Italians mention that their primary interest is “sustaining a political campaign,” but it’s not clear whether this referred to Salvini’s campaign for May’s European Parliament elections, as BuzzFeed alleges.
An election is mentioned once in passing during the conversation, with one of the Italians, a lawyer connected with a bank in London, saying they will be “good.”
Most of the conversation goes into details about how to expedite the shipments, with both sides agreeing on the urgency of closing the deal, according to the transcripts. This includes keeping the financial part within one bank in order to avoid a lengthy “know your client” check, which BuzzFeed implies was necessary to cover up something nefarious.
The publication doesn’t explain why such a sensitive deal would be negotiated in a hotel lobby. Neither does it say who recorded the talks or how the recording was obtained. Only small portions of the audio were published by the website.
One small detail in the transcript seems especially puzzling. During some small talk, one of the Russians complains about the rules in Italy, which require putting graphic images on cigarette packs. He says: “This country is very more favorable to smokers, no pictures at all.” This has not been the case since 2017, though BuzzFeed claims the meeting was held in October 2018.
The BuzzFeed article bases its story on an earlier article about the alleged meeting, which was first reported in February by the Italian L’Espresso magazine. Only this time BuzzFeed published a transcript.
Salvini responded to the BuzzFeed publication by denying that Liga had ever received funding from Russia, reiterating his earlier denials after L’Espresso report.
Buzzfeed itself, meanwhile, has been no stranger to controversy when it comes to reporting anything linked to Russia. Over recent years, the New York-based news outlet hasn’t been held back as it consistently pushed the ‘Russiagate’ narrative about a supposed collusion between US President Donald Trump and Moscow.
It reported earlier this year that Trump had directly instructed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about shelved plans to build a Trump Tower property in Moscow. At that time, BuzzFeed’s reporting prompted Special Counsel Robert Mueller to openly deny the claims months before presenting his report on the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia.
Buzzfeed was also the one to publish the infamous Steele dossier – a report by an MI6 spy-turned-private-investigator – which contained unverified allegations that Russia blackmailed Trump and was one of the starting points of the Russiagate narrative in the first place. None of the allegations presented in the dossier were proven. Instead, the author himself admitted that the report was partly based on an unverified internet post. Other reports suggested that the information for the dossier was fed to the author by people close to Hillary Clinton – Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections.
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