Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo at the Chigi palace in Rome, Thursday, July 4, 2019. Putin emphasized historically strong ties with Italy during a one-day visit to Rome that included a meeting with Pope Francis. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

ROME (AP) — The Italian premier's office on Sunday distanced itself from a lobbyist who is under investigation for allegedly seeking Russian money for Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's pro-Moscow League party, saying the man attended a recent dinner for visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin only because a Salvini adviser intervened on his behalf.

Premier Giuseppe Conte's office issued the statement after it said it was flooded with requests for information about the presence of Gianluca Savoini at a dinner the Italian leader hosted for Putin on July 4 at a Villa Madama, an exclusive hilltop government palazzo designed by Renaissance artist Raphael in the 16th century.

Savoini has been under investigation in Italy for allegedly seeking millions of dollars in financing for the League since the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso reported that he had discussed the plan with Russian officials in Moscow last year, a few months after the League became a partner in Conte's populist government.

"Conte personally doesn't know Mr. Savoini," the statement said, adding that those invited to the dinner included all those who participated in an Italian-Russian dialogue forum held in Rome a few hours earlier at the Italian foreign ministry.

Conte's office said it looked into how Savoini wound up at the dinner and determined that his involvement in the forum was arranged by Claudio D'Amico, an adviser to Salvini and that the dinner invitation "was an automatic consequence of his participation in the forum."

An open admirer of Putin, Salvini for years has advocated for the end of European Union sanctions on Russia, imposed for Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. He says the sanctions hurt Italian businessmen.

Salvini, who also serves as interior minister, has insisted that neither he nor his right-wing party has ever taken "a ruble" from Russians.

The League is the junior partner in Conte's year-old coalition government. Salvini's rival deputy premier, 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, pressed Sunday for a parliamentary inquiry on political party financing.

Opposition lawmakers are clamoring for Salvini's resignation.

Savoini lobbies for closer Italian-Russian ties through an association based in Lombardy, the affluent northern Italian region which is a League stronghold.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed at the Chigi palace by Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, in Rome, Thursday, July 4, 2019. Putin emphasized historically strong ties with Italy during a one-day visit to Rome that included a meeting with Pope Francis. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 file photo, the League leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media near Red Square outside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Opposition lawmakers want to question Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations a Russian oil deal was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers demanded Thursday, July 11, 2019 that a parliamentary inquiry be held. They want to question Salvini, the BuzzFeed journalist who made the allegations, Italy's ambassador to Moscow, Russia's ambassador to Rome and a former Salvini associate who allegedly brokered the proposed deal. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
Italian Deputy-Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, gestures during a press conference at the Interior Minister headquarters, in Rome, Friday, July 12, 2019. Opposition lawmakers questioned the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations a Russian oil deal was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers are demanding that a parliamentary inquiry be held. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo at the Chigi palace in Rome, Thursday, July 4, 2019. Putin emphasized historically strong ties with Italy during a one-day visit to Rome that included a meeting with Pope Francis. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Italian Deputy-Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, addresses the Senate in Rome, Thursday, July 11, 2019. Opposition lawmakers want to question Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations a Russian oil deal was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers are demanding that a parliamentary inquiry be held. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian Deputy-Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, addresses the Senate in Rome, Thursday, July 11, 2019. Opposition lawmakers want to question Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations a Russian oil deal was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers are demanding that a parliamentary inquiry be held. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian Deputy-Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, addresses the Senate in Rome, Thursday, July 11, 2019. Opposition lawmakers want to question Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini about allegations a Russian oil deal was devised to fund his pro-Moscow League party. Democratic Party lawmakers are demanding that a parliamentary inquiry be held. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)