Italian far-right leader Salvini's media guru quits amid drug inquiry

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Luca Morisi, social media guru for Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini, speaks at a conference in Turin, northern Italy on October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alberto Cabodi/File Photo

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ROME, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The social media guru for Italy's Matteo Salvini said on Monday he had quit his post, key to building the far-right leader's popularity, following media reports that he was under a narcotics investigation.

Luca Morisi, 48, widely considered to have had a crucial role in cultivating Salvini's "man of the people" image, denied committing any crime but said "the personal matter that concerns me represents a serious fall as a man".

Morisi defined Salvini's public profile with an endless flow of social media posts showing the so-called "Captain" in a range of activities, from eating Nutella chocolate spread for breakfast to lambasting migrants.

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A "digital philosopher, a social megaphone", as Morisi describes himself in his Twitter profile, he managed a team spreading content across YouTube, Twitter and Instagram and through the Whatsapp and Telegram chat groups, using a specially designed matrix of software dubbed "the Beast".

Verona district prosecutor Angela Barbaglio told Italian news agency Ansa on Monday that Morisi "has been inserted in the register of people under investigation for the alleged transfer of narcotic substances".

Italian media said the investigation began after three young men who were stopped by police in August with narcotics in their car said that Morisi had supplied them with the drugs.

Morisi said he had resigned from his roles in the far-right League party on Sept. 1 and apologised "for my weakness and my mistakes" to Salvini, the party, his father and colleagues.

"It is a very painful moment in my life, it reveals unresolved existential fragilities to which I need to devote all the time I can in the near future," Morisi said.

Salvini said in a Facebook post: "When a friend makes a mistake that you do not expect - and Luca has harmed himself more than others, first you get angry... but then you lend him a hand to help him recover. Friendship and loyalty are everything in life."

Under Salvini's leadership, the League emerged as Italy's most popular party three years ago and looked poised to dominate the political landscape in the near future.

However, a series of missteps eroded its advantage and current polling trends suggest the League losing ground to the fellow far-right Brothers of Italy party and to the centre-left Democratic Party.

A poll by Demos and Pi for daily la Repubblica showed Salvini losing support among Italians in recent months, slipping to eighth in the ranking of most appreciated leaders, below Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni.

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Reporting by Giulia Segreti Editing by Mark Heinrich

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