July 26, 2020 / 3:22 AM / in 10 days

Italy's Lombardy region denies allegations of fraud over COVID medical gear

Italy's Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana puts on a protective mask as he announces on Facebook that he has placed himself in quarantine after one of his aides tested positive for coronavirus, in this still image taken from social media video in Milan, Italy, February 26, 2020. Attilio Fontana Facebook Live/REUTERS TV via REUTERS/Files

MILAN (Reuters) - The governor of Lombardy, the Italian region hardest hit by the coronavirus, denied wrongdoing on Saturday after he was placed under investigation for suspected fraud over a supply of medical equipment from a company owned by his brother-in-law.

Magistrates are investigating Attilio Fontana, 68, a member of the right-wing League party, over a 250,000 euro payment to the company, in which Fontana’s wife has a 10% stake, Fontana’s lawyer Jacopo Pensa confirmed on Saturday.

Pensa told reporters Fontana denied wrongdoing.

The Lombardy region had ordered 75,000 surgical gowns and 7,000 sanitising kits from the company in a contract worth about 500,000 in April. The company later decided to donate a first batch of 50,000 gowns instead of taking money for them.

Fontana then ordered a bank transfer of 250,000 euros from his own private account in Switzerland to his brother-in-law. The payment was blocked by one of the banks, which notified financial police.

Pensa said Fontana wanted to compensate his brother-in-law for the loss of profit he suffered by converting the purchase into a donation.

League leader Matteo Salvini, a former interior minister, defended Fontana, saying the magistrates were politically motivated. Opposition parties called on Fontana to resign.

About half of Italy’s 35,000 deaths due to the coronavirus have been in Lombardy, Italy’s northern industrial and financial heartland.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff

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