By FOIA Research
on November 25, 2021 - Last updated: May 22, 2022

Luca Volontè

Luca Volontè is an Italian Catholic Right activist and politician. Volontè was formerly an Italian MP (1996 to 2013), and President of the European People's Party at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) (2010-2013). Until 2019 he was chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), a "Catholic-fundamentalist think tank"1 associated with Steve Bannon. He was a co-founder and later CEO of the Novae Terrae Foundation.2 Volontè has also been serving as trustee of the board of the Christian Right foundation and petition platform CitizenGo as well as of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. In January 2021, he was sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes from Azerbaijani politicians.3

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Timeline

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1990s

Luca Volontè was born in Saronno (Lombardy) on March 17, 1966. He graduated in Political Science from the University of Milan in 1993. According to a CV on the website Meeting Rimini4:

At that faculty he was responsible for the Catholics of the Communion and Liberation Movement and, in that capacity, in 1990, he invited Prof. Rocco Buttiglione to hold a lesson on the bicentenary of the French Revolution. This is the occasion in which the friendship with the current President of the United Christian Democrats and Minister for Community Policies began, thanks to which, in the last two years of university studies, the young Volontè participated in the International Study Seminars of the Higher Academy of Philosophy of the Principality of Liechtenstein in the summer of 1992 and 1993.

According to his CV on the Novae Terrae Foundation website, "he followed some courses of the Higher Academy of Philosophy of Liechtenstein under the guidance of Rocco Buttiglione, George Weigel, Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus."5

John Paul II Research Institute

According to the Meeting Rimini CV of Volontè4:

In September 1993 he began working in the showroom of Filanto spa [a manufacturer and international distributor of shoes] in Milan where, talking about the experiences of the summer seminars [in Liechtenstein] with the owner of the company, former president of the Filograna Foundation, he became the protagonist of the project which later resulted in the birth of the John Paul II Research Institute [Istituto di Studi Giovanni Paolo II], of which he assumed the direction, with the aim of spreading the social doctrine of the Church. He was assisted in the realization of this project by Prof. Buttiglione and by the other professors of the Liechtenstein Academy (Michael Novack, Richard J. Neuhaus, Francesco Cossiga and George Weigel).

Aforementioned CV also describes Volontè's political career that ensued4:

In January 1994, shortly before leaving for Georgetown University where he would pursue a Masters in the history of political doctrines, he joined Rocco Buttiglione in Rome to support him in the electoral campaign of the upcoming political elections.

When Buttiglione was elected to the Chamber of Deputies with the Italian People's Party, he worked as parliamentary assistant until the National Congress in July '94 which saw not only the appointment of his professor friend as National Secretary of the PPI, but also himself as Head of the Local Entities of the party. In March 1995, following the split of the PPI, he was once again the protagonist, together with his friends Mario Tassone, Rocco Buttiglione and Gianni Panetta, of the birth of the United Christian Democrats Party of which he became the Organizational Manager.

In the April 1996 elections, Volontè was elected as a Member to the Chamber of Deputies from the second constituency of Lombardy.4 Volontè was re-elected as Member to the Chamber of Deputies in 2001, 2006 and 2008.6

Rocco Buttiglione

Volontè's mentor, Rocco Buttiglione, is a Catholic fundamentalist academic and politician who was Minister for European Affairs (2001-2005), Minister of Culture (2006) and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies (until 2013). According to the BBC, Buttiglione was considered "one of the closest friends and counsellors of Pope John Paul II," who died in 2005.7

Buttiglione made headlines when in 2004 José Manuel Barroso included him on his list of nominees for the European Commission as Commissioners for Justice and Equality. During Buttiglione's hearing before the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice And Home Affairs, he was asked about his stance on homosexuality and women. Buttiglione responded that he considered homosexuality a sin, and also stated his belief that the family "exists in order to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male who takes care of them."8 The PES, ALDE and Green/EFA groups strongly opposed Buttiglione's nomination, and threatened to reject the entire Commission. Buttiglione received plenty of support from the Catholic fundamentalist Communion and Liberation movement in the course of the controversy,9 long speculated to be a CIA front,10 to which he has been devoted since the beginning of his career.11 Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ultimately announced that the Italian government would withdraw Buttiglione's nomination, however, kept him as Minister for European affairs in the Italian government.

According to the FAQ section of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute website (of which Volontè later became chairman)12:

Harnwell came up with the idea for the Institute in 2004 after the mainstream Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione was forced to withdraw his candidacy as Italy’s nominee for Vice President of the European Commission because of his Catholic views on homosexuality.

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2010s

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

From 2010 to 2013 Volontè served as Chairman of the parliamentary group of the European People's Party in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.13 According to his CV, "Volontè has been a Member of several Commitees at PACE, including the Presidential Commitee, PACE Bureau."2

Novae Terrae Foundation

Another online CV mentions that in 2010 Volontè was the director of the Italian Novae Terrae Foundation (Fondazione Novae Terrae, NTF),14 while the current NTF website identifies him as a co-founder, alongside Emanuele Fusi, Massimiliano Codoro, Stefano Vitale, Nicola Abalsamo, Francesco Maffeis and Flavio Felice.15 However, it is unclear when the NTF was actually established. An early iteration of the website mentions the year 2007.16 Another hint can be found in the "About" section of the related Tocqueville-Acton Study and Research Center (Centro Studi e Ricerche Tocqueville-Acton), indicating that the NTF might be even older. It states17:

Tocqueville-Acton was born on June 1, 2007 from the integration of the Lord Acton Documentation Center of the Novae Terrae Foundation, founded by Prof. Flavio Felice and the Alexis de Tocqueville Study Center of the Association of Studies and Research for Enterprise and Work 4.0, founded by Prof. Fabio Giuseppe Angelini.

It was inter alia via the Novae Terrae Foundation that Volontè received bribes from Azerbaijan to lobby for the country in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, starting in late 2012.18 Volontè's first recorded trip to Baku was in July 2011, where he met Elkhan Suleymanov, a fellow PACE member and, on a later trip, Muslum Mammadov, a close collaborator of Suleymanov, who became also a full member of PACE in January 2016.18 According to a report by the European Stability Initiative18:

On 21 November, Volonte composed two documents with instructions for Muslum Mammadov, which police later found in his office. One included bank details of Volonte’s personal foundation – called Novae Terrae (New Lands) – and a demand for €100,000. It also referred to a monthly stipend of €30,000 for Volonte to be paid half in cash “in €50 and €100 banknotes” and half through transfers to a bank account of the company LGV. A second document referred to €250,000 to be transferred to LGV, registered in Milan under the name of Volonte’s wife. A few weeks earlier, Volonte had urged his accountant to set up this company (with his initials, Luca Giuseppe Volonte) as quickly as possible for the purpose of receiving money from Baku.

On 14 December 2012, the first transfer of €100,000 was made to the bank account of Novae Terrae Foundation, where it arrived three days later. On Christmas Eve 2012, another transfer of €220,000 was made to the bank account of LGV. The money came from two companies – Metastar Invest, registered in Birmingham, and Jetfield Network Limited, registered on the Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean – and reached Italy via two banks in Estonia and Latvia. The purpose of the first transfer was described as “Fir consultinq Service” (sic). This path was chosen to conceal the fact that these were payments from one PACE member (Elkhan Sulyemanov) to another (Luca Volonte).

In total, Volontè received 2.39 million Euro in payments through British and offshore companies from his Azeri contacts.19 It was not until 2016 that the affair turned into a full-blown scandal, dubbed the Azerbaijani Laundromat, which ultimately won Volontè a prison sentence in 2021 (see below).

In November 2011 Volontè was awarded the “Scandinavian Human Dignity Prize.”5

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2012

On March 28, 2012, Viktor Orbán posted a picture of himself with János Martonyi and Luca Volontè. According to an article on Hungarian Spectrum20:

By that time, Volontè had proved to be a great friend of Hungary. In January 2011 the Council of Europe held a debate on the functioning of democracy in the country. Hungary was fiercely defended by several members of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), among them Volontè, who criticized the proceedings against Hungary on the ground of “a lack of facts.” Any criticism of the government inside of Hungary, he argued, comes from “people who are unhappy that they were not reelected.” Otherwise, Hungary is a model democracy.

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2013

Dignitatis Humanae Institute

In February 2013, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino confirmed the appointment of Luca Volontè as Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), a position he held until 2019.2 He succeeded Lord Nicholas Windsor, who had served as chairman since October 2011.21 The DHI is a "Catholic-fundamentalist think tank"22 under the patronage of the far-right ideologue Steve Bannon.23 The DHI was founded on December 8, 2008, by a group of Catholic hardliners in Brussels around Benjamin Harnwell and Nirj Deva. The organization became more widely known when in early 2018 Steve Bannon announced his by now failed plans to open a fascist cadre school in the Abbey of Trisulti, a remote Italian monastery, with the help of the DHI - a project of which Deva was a primary backer.24 The DHI links into a vast network of national and international organizations and lobby groups, which are commonly subsumed under the term “pro-life” campaigners. They are advocating various objectives of the Christian Right, such as making abortions and contraception illegal, bringing down the “gender ideology,” ostracizing homosexuality, and opposing divorce.

In July 2013 Volontè traveled to Russia. According to an article on Pravmir25:

On 19 July 2013, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), met with Mr. Luca Volontè ... They were joined in the meeting, which took place at the DECR premises, by archimandrite Philaret (Bulekov), DECR vice-chairman. Discussed were problems of cooperation among political, public and religious leaders and organization in defending traditional moral values on the European continent.

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), Archimandrite Philaret (Bulekov), DECR vice-chairman, and Luca Volontè in July 2013.

In June/July 2013, the Novae Terrae Foundation website was launched,26 with Volontè being the president at that time.6 Until December 2014 Novae Terrae remained a vehicle for Azeri bribes. In 2013, according to an article by Lamarea27:

Volontè ... voted against the Strässer Report in which the conditions of political prisoners in Azerbaijan were denounced and which was rejected by 125 votes against 79 in favor. According to the Milanese court, his vote was bought by Azeri politicians Elkhan Suleymanov and Muslum Mammadov under the coordination of the country's president, Ilham Aliyev.

Archived versions of the Novae Terrae website show a section in the sidebar specifying various "partners": European Center for Law and Justice, Fondation Jérôme Lejeune, The Witherspoon Institute, Ja till Livet – Sì alla vita, The Heritage Foundation, HazteOir.org, Profesionales pr la etica, Zenit, Cristiano Cattolico, Mercatornet, Le Salon Beige, Oriente Cristiano and Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe.28

Already in late 2013, the website of the Novae Terrae Foundation linked to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute and to the Catholic Right foundation and petition platform CitizenGo, both joined by Volontè that year.28 In turn, there appeared a banner on the DHI's website advertising Volontè's Nova Terrae Foundation.18

CitizenGo

CitizenGo was established in Madrid, Spain, in 2013 by Ignacio Arsuaga, founder and president of HazteOir,29 a similar Spanish-language platform existing since 2001, dedicated to fight an imputed "gender ideology."30 As of late 2013, Volontè was already involved in the organization, as an internal document from December 2013 shows.

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2014

According to a report by OpenDemocracy31:

Bank statements from Volonte’s Novae Terrae Foundation in Italy, seen by openDemocracy, show that it paid CitizenGo €12,000 in 2014 – at the same time as the foundation was receiving money from entities later identified as part of a ‘laundromat’ pumping illicit cash into Europe from Azerbaijan and Russia. There is no evidence to suggest that the money paid to CitizenGo came from these illicit sources.

According to RightWingWatch, Volontè "served as the chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) when it hosted a video address inside the Vatican in 2014 by Steve Bannon, then Breitbart’s executive chairman and now US President Donald Trump’s top strategist."32

March for Marriage

On June 19, 2014, Volontè took part in the 2nd March for Marriage in Washington  D.C. On a picture he can be seen alongside Mike Huckabee of the American Republican Party, the Mexican Rodrigo Iván Cortés of the National Action Party, and Ignacio Arsuaga, president of HazteOír and CitizenGo.33

From left to right: the condemned Luca Volontè, Mike Huckabee of the American Republican Party, the Mexican Rodrigo Iván Cortés of the National Action Party, and Ignacio Arsuaga, president of HazteOír and CitizenGo, at the March for Marriage held in Washington in 2014.

That year Volontè was honored with the “Family and Truth” award by the World Congress of Families at its summit in Salt Lake City34:

The “Familias et Veritas” Awards for building organizations and networks which support the natural family go to Luca Volonte (founder of Novae Terrae Foundation and Chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute) and Andrea Minichiello Williams (Founder and CEO of Christian Concern and Director of the Christian Legal Centre).

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2016

International Organization for the Family
Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society

In 2016 Volontè became a trustee of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society (doing business as International Organization for the Family, IOF),35 a key organization behind the creation of the World Congress of Families in 1997.36 Also the Russian Aleksey Komov became a trustee that year. Two years earlier the Spanish Ignacio Arsuaga, founder of HazteOir and CitizenGo, the Mexican Vicente Segu Marcos, as well as the American Brian Brown had joined the organization, all of whom are still involved, according to the Howard Center's latest filings (2019).37

According to RightWingWatch, Volontè traveled to South Africa in December 201632:

... to help National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown launch the International Organization for the Family. Volontè serves with Brown on the board of trustees of CitizenGO, an online platform for conservative organizers.

After in December 2016 a dossier by the European Stability Initiative was published,38 a large-scale investigation into a multi-billion money laundering scheme hit off, in which Luca Volontè was implicated.3940 Investigators said “they have uncovered 2.39 million Euro in payments to Volonté through British and offshore companies. […] The payments, prosecutors allege, were made in exchange for Volonté’s efforts to mute the European body’s criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights record.”19

However, Volontè was just one of many others who received money from Azerbaijan. In September 2017 The Guardian ran a piece entitled “UK at centre of secret $3bn Azerbaijani money laundering and lobbying scheme," which reads41:

Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.9bn scheme to pay prominent Europeans, buy luxury goods and launder money through a network of opaque British companies, an investigation by the Guardian reveals. Leaked data shows that the Azerbaijani leadership, accused of serial human rights abuses, systemic corruption and rigging elections, made more than 16,000 covert payments from 2012 to 2014. […] The leaked bank records show multiple payments to several former members of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, PACE. One is […] Italian former chair of the centre-right group in PACE, Luca Volontè.

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2021

In January 2021, Criminal Section X of the Court of Milan sentenced Luca Volontè to four years in prison for taking bribes from Azerbaijani politicians.3

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