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Italy's Northern League criticizes magistrates after bank accounts frozen

ROME (Reuters) - The leader of one of Italy’s biggest political parties, the Northern League, criticized magistrates on Thursday after the Genoa court froze several of the bloc’s bank accounts.

FILE PHOTO: Northern League's leader Matteo Salvini answers journalists questions during a news conference in Milan, Italy, June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Matteo Salvini, speaking to reporters at the lower house of parliament, said five of the party’s bank accounts were frozen on Thursday, following a July conviction of party founder Umberto Bossi and others of illegal use of party funds.

The court in Genoa in northern Italy has accepted a request by prosecutors in the fraud case to preventively freeze the accounts, a source close to the matter told Reuters.

“The magistrates are trying to outlaw a political party,” Salvini said. “They’re trying to stop the advance of the League, which has reached a historic high.”

Salvini said he would meet with the party’s lawyers on Friday to discuss how to fight the seizure. Bossi is no longer in frontline politics, but he remains an influential figure in the party.

In July, the Genoa court said Bossi had used party funds to pay for family expenses. The ruling is being appealed and is not definitive.

The League would win 15 percent of the vote if an election were held now, recent polls show, which is about three times higher than it faired in the 2014 European elections.

That would make it the country’s third most-popular party, and a national vote is due early next year.

As hundreds of thousands of boat migrants have arrived in Italy in the past three years, the opposition Northern League has attacked the government’s and the European Union’s handling of the immigration crisis.

At the same time, Salvini has tried to broaden the appeal of the party, which was founded to protest Rome’s funneling of taxpayer money to the under-developed south.

Reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome and Emilio Parodi in Milan, Editing by Angus macSwan