ROME, Apr 3 – Italy’s Northern League party, a frequent critic of government corruption and part of the former cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi, was hit by a high-profile fraud inquiry against its treasurer on Tuesday.,
The investigation revolves around bookkeeper Francesco Belsito and his handling of public funds managed by the party in northern Italy. Prosecutors are also looking into possible links with organised crime and money laundering.
One part of the probe is focused on investments of five million euros ($6.7 million) in Cyprus and Tanzania allegedly made by Belsito.
The Northern League, which is the only party in parliament opposed to Prime Minister Mario Monti, is considered a plaintiff in the investigation.
“We should take advantage of this opportunity to clean up,” former interior minister Roberto Maroni, a major player in the party who is reported to have ambitions to replace Northern League founder Umberto Bossi.
Maroni called on Belsito to resign, adding: “If someone made mistakes, they will have to answer for them.” He voiced concern that the scandal could affect the party’s performance in local elections next month.
Belsito later resigned following talks with the party of leadership.
Part of the investigation is on Bossi’s family, with one search warrant indicating police were looking into payments to some of his family members with cash, by cheque or “through illegal contracts.”
The Northern League rose to prominence in the early 1990s with a separatist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigration platform and brought down Berlusconi’s first government in 1994 by withdrawing from his coalition.