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Hungarian-American financier Mr Soros, who has ploughed large amounts of cash into liberal and progressive causes via his Open Society Foundations, last week singled out right-winger Mr Salvini as a threat to the future of the bloc, accusing him of plotting a so-called “Italexit”. However, Mr Soros, 89, also said Mr Salvini’s personal popularity was falling since he resigned as Italy’s interior minister last year.

An honour and a prize for me

Matteo Salvini

Mr Salvini hit back via his Facebook page, branding Mr Soros an “enemy of Italy”, and claiming: “Being attacked by ‘mister’ Soros is an honour and a prize for me.”

In a Q and A with Dutch magazine De Telegraaf last week, Mr Soros said: “I am particularly concerned about Italy.

“Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega party, is agitating for the country to leave the euro and the EU.

“Fortunately, his personal popularity has declined since he left the government, but his advocacy is gaining momentum.

“What would be left of Europe without Italy?”

Mr Soros and Mr Salvini have clashed before.

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In 2018, Mr Soros urged Italy to investigate Mr Salvini’s links with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at the Trento Economy Festival, he said: “It’s a strong threat and I am very concerned, there is a close relationship between Matteo Salvini and Putin.

“I don’t know whether Putin effectively bankrolls his party but it’s a matter Italian public opinion has a right to investigate.

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“Italian public opinion has a right to know whether Salvini is in Putin’s pockets.”

Mr Salvini swiftly hit back, insisting: “We have never received any lira, euro or ruble from Russia.

“I think Putin is one of the best statesmen in the world and I am ashamed someone as speculative and unscrupulous as George Soros was invited to give a speech in Italy.”

An Italian Senate committee today rejected a request by magistrates to investigate Mr Salvini for refusing a migrant rescue boat permission to land last year when he was interior minister.

Mr Salvini refused to allow a ship carrying more than 100 migrants rescued at sea to land in Italy in August last year, while serving in the previous coalition government.

An Italian prosecutor eventually ordered the seizure and evacuation of the ship, operated by Spanish aid group Open Arms.

The committee rejected by 13 votes to 7 a court request to proceed with an investigation on charges of alleged kidnapping of migrants.

A full upper house vote could still reverse the committee decision.

Under Italian law, former ministers cannot be tried for actions while in office without parliamentary authorisation.

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