June 13, 2018 / 2:58 PM / a year ago

Italian finance police search bank as part of League investigation

MILAN (Reuters) - Finance police searched a bank in northern Italy on Wednesday as part of an investigation into possible money laundering by the far-right League party, judicial sources said.

The League, which earlier this month formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, did not respond to requests for comment.

The investigation was launched last year after a tribunal in Genoa froze several League bank accounts as a precaution following a court order for the party to refund some 49 million euros in connection with a 2010 corruption scandal.

However, magistrates only found some two million euros and suspect that other funds might have been illegally shifted abroad to avoid seizure, said three judicial sources with direct knowledge of the case.

League leader Matteo Salvini, who is interior minister in the new government, accused magistrates last year of trying to destroy his party by blocking its funding.

A court last year found League founder Umberto Bossi guilty of illegally using party funds to pay for family expenses and sentenced him to two years and three months in jail. It also convicted his son, Renzo, and former League Treasurer Francesco Belsito.

All three deny any wrongdoing and are appealing the verdict.

As part of its ruling, the Milan court said the League should pay back 49 million euros it had received from official state financing in the period 2008-2010, when Bossi committed his alleged offences.

The money will not have to be handed over until the appeals process has been exhausted, but the Genoa court ordered the funds to be frozen preventively.

Judicial sources said finance police went to the headquarters of savings bank Sparkasse Bozen in the northern city of Bolzano as well as a branch of the lender in Milan.

Sparkasse chairman Gerhard Brandstaetter said in a statement his bank had “no ties” with the League. He said the checks by the finance police were “legitimate” and involved other firms.

Sources said the search was triggered by a Bank of Italy report of suspicious transactions of some 3 million euros to Luxembourg, with a similar amount then wired back to Italy. Judicial sources said the accounts under review were held by people and companies seen as close to the League.

Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Toby Chopra

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