Former Northern League treasurer arrested

Belsito accused of influencing business including Fincantieri

Former Northern League treasurer arrested

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 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. A 2.5-million-euro yacht was bought by one of Bossi's sons as part of widespread embezzlement, police said. The Northern League said it was an injured party in the case. Milan prosecutors allege that Belsito was part of a 'business committee' that used its own influence to wield illegal influence on Italian businesses. Two others were also arrested on Wednesday as part of the probe - Veneto businessman Stefano Bonet and deal maker Romolo Girardelli, nicknamed ''The admiral''. The request for the arrests dates back to the end of October, and regards an investigation into Belsito's relationship with state-controlled shipbuilder Fincantieri and Northern League party funds invested in Cyprus and Tanzania. Belsito's arrest warrant, signed by Milan prosecutor Gianfranco Criscione, reads that Belsito was ''able to influence the decisions of institutions and large public and private companies, including for example SIRAM SpA, Fincantieri SpA and GNV SpA, by virtue of the political power deriving from the offices held''. Siram is an energy services and technology company. GNV is a passenger ship operator. Belsito is ex'-vice chairman of Fincantieri and held an important regulatory role as ex-undersecretary for the Normative Simplification Ministry. Prosecutors in Reggio Calabria also believe Belsito may have been involved in recycling money for the 'Ndrangheta mafia's powerful De Stefano gang, which based in the the southern Italian city. 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 'Ndrangheta mafia 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. 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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