European committee criticizes Italy party funding

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 11 2012 8:15 a.m. MDT

Former Northern League party leader and founder Umberto Bossi, touches his heart as he stands next to his party flag during a party rally in Bergamo, northern Italy, Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Bossi, whose support kept Silvio Berlusconi in power in three governments, quit as party leader last week amid a widening corruption scandal over party funds. He has denied using party funds for personal use. He told the rally it was "obvious" that party leaders are the "victims of a plot.

Gian Mattia D'Alberto, Lapresse) ITALY OUT, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROME — A European committee on corruption has found serious problems with the way Italian political parties manage their money and is recommending independent audits and better internal controls.

Wednesday's report from a Council of Europe committee came as Italy's political establishment has been shaken by allegations that members of the Northern League, a conservative bloc critical to Silvio Berlusconi's three governments, used party funds for personal expenses.

The scandal has forced the resignations of the League's treasurer as well as its firebrand leader, Umberto Bossi, and his son Renzo, who has been named by a League car driver as having allegedly received party cash for his own use.

Chastened by public outrage over the scandal, Italy's other main political parties have promised swift action to make party funding and spending more transparent.

The Council of Europe's corruption committee identified areas that need major reform, saying Italy must lower the €50,000 (around $65,000) threshold under which the identity of a donor can remain private. It said anonymous donations must be banned and for sanctions to be applied in cases of violations.

It criticized the current system in place, saying three different institutions handle controls over party funding, yet none of them coordinate with each other, much less Italian law enforcement.

The scandal came to a head Tuesday night at a League rally in the northern city of Bergamo. Outraged members brandishing brooms shouted "Clean up!" and "Get out!" — a reference to another high-ranking member who has so far refused to resign.

A tearful Bossi apologized for the sins of his children and Roberto Maroni, a former interior minister poised to take over the leadership of the party, promised to kick out anyone implicated in the scandal.

Maroni, who has been at the forefront demanding accountability, went to prosecutors on Wednesday to offer help in the investigation into the League's finances. Maroni is known to have been at odds with some League members who have been implicated in the scandal.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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