Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League), the party that gained popularity by defining itself as an organization that is free of corruption, got hit by allegations of money laundering, fraud and embezzlement.
According to reports, Italian prosecutors are investigating the Northern League over a raft of charges of financial irregularities.
The party was allied with the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned in November of last year.
The party’s treasurer Francesco Belsito, has already quit his post following allegations that he abused his position and misappropriated party funds.
Belsito was accused of fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering against the State by three prosecutors in Milan, Naples, and Reggio Calabria.
The prosecutor in Milan accused Belsito specifically of “disbursing Northern League funds to family members of the party’s leader, [Umberto] Bossi, for personal needs.”
Some of the more explosive allegations have to do with Belsito’s links to an intermediary who is in close contact with members of the De Stefano family, one of the most powerful clans making up the 'ndrangheta, the organized crime syndicate based in Calabria, the toe of Italy.
In addition, investments the party has made in Cyprus and Tanzania are being examined for possible links to organized crime.
Long associated with a right-wing, anti-tax, anti-immigration philosophy, the Northern League has also in the past criticized corruption in the southern part of Italy and in Sicily.
Founded by Bossi in 1982, the party has grown in the north of Italy and has always chosen to distance itself from what it called in a political slogan, “Roma Ladrona” (“Robber Rome”).
The Corriere Della Sera newspaper reported that Bossi’s children, as well as the general secretary of a Northern League-affiliiated trade union, Rosy Mauro, enjoyed travel, hotel and meals paid for with embezzled party funds.
In addition, the money was also allegedly used to pay for the upgrade of Bossi’s home in Gemonio in Lombardy.
The Bossi family, however, denies the claims and chose not to associate itself with Belsito.
Renzo Bossi, one of Umberto’s sons, told the Regional Council of Lombardy, of which he is a member, “Let me be clear, I never took money from the [Northern League]. And also my family never took money from the League either.”
Former Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, himself a member of the League, has warned that the ongoing scandal may hurt the party in next month’s local elections. Maroni (who had called on Belsito to step down) is reportedly a rival of Bossi for the party’s leadership.
“Now is the time to take the opportunity for a clear-out because this sort of thing hurts the League and hurts its activists”, Maroni told Italian media.