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Italy's prosecutors give League decades to repay party funds

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Italy's prosecutors give League decades to repay party funds
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini speaks during a joint news conference with Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache in Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger   -   Copyright  LEONHARD FOEGER(Reuters)
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ROME (Reuters) – Italian prosecutors said on Tuesday the far-right League can repay some 45 million euros ($53 million) it owes the state over the next 75 years, saving the governing party from possible bankruptcy.

A court ruled this month that prosecutors in the northern city of Genoa could seize some 49 million euros from accounts and businesses belonging to the party following a fraud investigation.

The courts have already recovered almost 4 million euros, but many League bank accounts were discovered to be empty and magistrates are investigating whether other funds may have been shifted abroad illegally to avoid detection.

The League, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, has denied this, and some senior party figures had warned that the court ruling could force the group, which rules in coalition with the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, to disband.

Since the inconclusive nationwide election in March, when the League won 17 percent of the vote, Salvini has dominated Italy’s political agenda with an aggressive and popular campaign against immigration.

The head prosecutor in Genoa, Franco Cozzi, said Tuesday’s deal would guarantee the continued existence of the League, while also ensuring that the state recovered the misappropriated funds. The League is still appealing the original ruling.

Up to 2013, each Italian party was entitled to state electoral funding partly based on the number of parliamentary seats it had. Opposition parties have accused the League of defrauding the state.

Prosecutors started to hunt down the money last year after the League’s founder and former leader, Umberto Bossi, was convicted of illegally using party funds from 2008 to 2010.

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Writing by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Alison Williams)

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