A case of vodka that the Russian president allegedly sent to Italy’s former PM potentially violated an EU import ban, Der Spiegel reports © Getty Images / Nicolò Campo

A case containing 20 bottles of vodka that Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly sent to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as a birthday gift may have violated EU sanctions, Der Spiegel reported on Thursday, citing an official comment from the European Commission to the DPA news agency.

According to the statement, a spokeswoman for the Commission told the news agency that the April 2022 ban on goods imports from Russia to the EU includes spirits, namely vodka, and does not provide an exemption for gifts. The spokeswoman went on to explain that breaches of the sanctions can be reported to the competent national authorities of member states, or directly to Brussels.

The news that Putin had sent the gift to Berlusconi was reported by Italy’s LaPresse news agency earlier this week. The outlet released an audio recording of the former prime minister’s discussion with members of his party, Forza Italia, at a closed meeting.

“I have reconnected with President Putin… He sent me 20 bottles of vodka and a really sweet letter for my birthday. I responded with 20 bottles of Lambrusco and a similarly sweet letter,” Berlusconi was heard saying in the recording.

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However, Forza Italia representatives later said that the former PM was not referring to his most recent birthday on September 29, 2022, but instead was telling “an old story to lawmakers about an episode that occurred years ago,” which means that EU sanctions may not apply at all. The party representatives added that “Berlusconi denies the news of alleged renewed relations with Vladimir Putin.”

However, later reports emerged, suggesting that the remarks were indeed made this year.

The potential scandal comes just weeks after the 86-year-old politician returned to the Italian parliament, nine years after being forced out for alleged tax fraud.

Previously, Putin and Berlusconi enjoyed a friendly relationship and often complimented one another. However, Berlusconi has lately been critical of Putin over Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, saying he was disappointed with the Russian leader, who he always considered “a man of democracy and peace.”

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