Former Northern League treasurer arrested

Suspected of rigging business for groups like Fincantieri

Former Northern League treasurer arrested

(updates previous). Milan, April 24 - The former treasurer of the regionalist Northern League party, Francesco Belsito, was arrested Wednesday on charges of alleged criminal association and aggravated fraud. He is suspected of leading a so-called ''business committee'' influencing contracts for corporate giants like ship-building group Fincantieri. The Northern League said it would stand as an injured party in any eventual trial. Belsito had been under investigation since a probe into alleged misuse of public funding to the party broke last year in a scandal that led party founder and leader Umberto Bossi to quit. Belsito's Wednesday arrest is connected to an investigation in which prosecutors believe Belsito may have been involved in laundering money for the 'Ndrangheta mafia De Stefano gang, based in the the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria. Prosecutors believe Belsito sought to set up a trust company located in Lugano, Switzerland, for the preparation of business structures that would justify the transfer of Italian money abroad. Investigators are also hunting down a Swiss bank account that may have been made available to Milanese emissaries of the De Stefano gang to launder money from illegal activities. Belsito's lawyer said his client was arrested at about 6am at his home in Genoa and taken to Milan. The lawyer also confirmed that the arrest was ''connected to (Belsito's) past role as treasurer'' and said he ''was mystified at the arrest in this moment, a year after his interrogation, also because Belsito no longer holds any office''. The documentation that launched the Milan probe was forwarded from Naples prosecutors Henry John Woodcock and Vencenzo Piscitelli. Two others were also arrested on Wednesday as part of the probe - Veneto businessman Stefano Bonet and deal maker Romolo Girardelli, nicknamed ''The admiral''. Last year, Belsito was accused of buying gold bullion and diamonds valued at hundreds of thousands of euros that were allegedly bought illegally with public election funds. Prosecutors said bank records for the jewels and gold surfaced as part of as part of an investigation into Belsito for allegedly channeling public funds to the family of the Northern League's ex-leader Umberto Bossi. Belsito was accused of buying the items along with former Senate Deputy Speaker Rosy Mauro, who was expelled from the party, and League Senator Piergiorgio Stiffoni. In April 2012, Belsito turned over gold and diamonds to authorities as well as an Audi A6 sedan which at one point belonged to Bossi's son Renzo, who stepped down as councillor in the Lombardy regional assembly.

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