After the case of the dodgy defunct daisy party and its missing millions, it is now the turn of Italy’s Lega Nord – Northern League – political party to face questions over the illicit use of party funds.
The funding scandal led to the resignation today of Lega Nord – Northern League – leader, Umberto Bossi, after it emerged that both Bossi and party bigwig, Roberto Calderoli, had allegedly been using illicit donations to fund the Lega Nord party, the funding of which appears to be far from transparent.
Investigators want to know the origins of the donations made by Bossi and Calderoli. It is possible that the money resulted from the payment of bribes, though this has still to be ascertained.
So far, Roberto Calderoli has remained rather silent. Who knows why?!
Lega Nord party treasurer (ex-bouncer and now ex-treasurer) Francesco Belsito is facing accusations of fraud and is suspected of money laundering activities too. Some, such as Italian mafia expert and author, Roberto Saviano, have suspected that the Lega Nord party has had links to organized crime in Italy for many years – something which Lega Nord people have vehemently denied.
On top of the accusations, mention has been made of sums of party money being diverted into the personal accounts of leader Umberto Bossi’s family. Umberto Bossi claims he knows nothing about the misuse of party funds or “donations” to his family members.
Other reports involve the redirection of Lega Nord party funding, around 80% of which is public money, towards the personal projects and activities of Umberto Bossi and his family.
Painting Bossi’s House
There is talk of, public and/or party, money being used to redecorate the Bossi family home, purchase a car for one of Bossi’s sons Renzo “the Trout” Bossi, and even paying for the same son’s partying in Dubai. Up to €200,000 is said to have been “donated” to pay for the activities of Bossi’s children.
The wife of Bossi, Manuela Marrone, and a Lega Nord stalwart, Italian Senator Rosi Mauro, are also said to have benefited from the redirection of party funds. Another Italian senator with connections to Bossi’s party also appears to be caught up in the scandal.
Umberto Bossi has said he’ll report whoever paid for the redecoration of his house to the police. Bossi’s son, Renzo denies having received donations, or cars.
Ex-Lega Nord treasurer, Francesco Belsito, reportedly kept a file entitled “The Family” in his safe – this document is now in the hands of investigators. Details of the contents of the file are emerging.
Last night on the La 7 evening news, Italian Senator Umberto Bossi told journalists who tried to question him about the affair to “f**k off”. The cigar-chomping Italian politician is famed for his brusqueness.
Bossi’s Corruption Conviction
Back in the mid 1990s, when Italy’s Tagentopoli – Bribesville – scandal was in full flow, Bossi and his then party treasurer were convicted of corruption. The conviction was upheld in subsequent appeals.
Rumors that Umberto Bossi, who has led the Lega Nord party since it was formed in 1991, was on the point of resigning had been floating around since yesterday.
Bossi Led an Anti-Corruption Party
Ironically, Italy’s Lega Nord party initially rose to power because it stood for honesty and dignity and claimed it wanted to clamp down on corruption and incompetence.
“Roma Ladrona” – “Rome is a big thief” – is, to this day, a Lega Nord battle cry. Today, Twitter has the #legaladrona – “Lega big thief” hashtag.
In the early days of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi garnered substantial support because he wanted Italy’s hard working north to stop funding Italy’s lazy and corrupt south.
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In very southern Italian style, Bossi had managed to ensure his son, Renzo Bossi, landed a well paid job with Italy’s Lombardy region – earning around €12,000 a month. Technically, under Lega Nord rules, Renzo Bossi was not even eligible for election – but he was Bossi’s son, so an exception was made.
UPDATE 10 April, 2012: Renzo Bossi, Umberto Bossi’s son, has now resigned from his position as a Lombardy region councilor. The controversy does not end though, and an ex-driver/bodyguard has been showing videos he made of Bossi junior taking cash reportedly withdrawn directly from a Lega Nord bank account which contains public money.
To get round suspicions of funding abuse, the money used by Renzo Bossi was allegedly officially recorded as being the driver’s travel expenses.
End of update
Bossi also reportedly ensured that his wife benefited from €800,000 of public funding for her Lega Nord flavor school.
The Lega Nord party wanted independence for its area of northern Italy which it refers to as Padania, but when this did not happen, it demanded federalism. Some steps have been taken towards a form of federalism, but Italy is nowhere near as federal as Bossi’s supporters would like. As for Padania gaining independence, this is an extremely remote possibility, even if Bossi has at times threatened to raise an army to conquer Italy’s north.
Bossi’s Middle Finger
Aside from aggressive political rhetoric, Umberto Bossi is very well known in Italy for giving all who disagree with his views a raised middle finger. Decorum is not a word one associates with Umberto Bossi.
The Lega Nord is a kind of nationalistic party which works to promote and maintain northern Italian culture. It also has a, not entirely justified, reputation for xenophobia and dislikes the presence of immigrants in Italy.
Bossi’s Support for Berlusconi
During Silvio Berlusconi’s reign, which ran, except for a two year break, from 2001 to late 2011, Bossi and his party sided with Mr B and his gang.
The scandals affecting Berlusconi appeared to cause some embarrassment for Bossi who tended to waver a little; and hide behind bushes, reputedly; before invariably coming out in support of his political partner. After the fall of the Berlusconi government in November 2011, Bossi fell out completely with Berlusconi.
His support for Silvio Berlusconi caused Bossi’s popularity to dwindle, and Lega Nord grass roots members were not happy with his continual siding with Berlusconi.
Bossi’s political rhetoric, as is so often the case in Italian politics, is now looking as if it were no more than a bluff.
Far from wanting to improve the lot of his supporters, it appears as if Bossi’s main aim was merely to enrich his direct family and personal network.
The whole anti-corruption stance of the Lega Nord now looks as if it was a cleverly executed con-trick designed to win votes and not much more.
Some of Bossi’s supporters believe their leader has been betrayed. It is unclear by whom. Other Lega Nord members think Umberto Bossi and family are the party’s main problem.
The Future for Lega Nord?
What will happen to the Lega Nord now? Will it cease to exist? As is often the case in Italy, discredited political parties re-form (but rarely reform) under new names.
The Lega Nord affair raises the question: If this party cannot keep its house in order, what hope does it have of running Italy properly?