Italian police have seized “an arsenal of military weapons,” including an air-to-air missile, and a collection of Nazi paraphernalia from three men, one of whom is a former political candidate for an extreme right party.
Fabio Del Bergiolo, who ran for the Italian Senate in 2001 as a candidate for the Forza Nuova party, Swiss citizen Alessandro Monti and Fabio Bernardi were arrested on Friday in connection with the arms stockpile.
Monti, 42, and Bernardi, 51, were arrested for allegedly possessing and trying to selling a French-made Matra air-to-air missile, while Bergiolo, 60, was arrested for allegedly acting as an intermediary to sell weapons, a Turin police statement said.
The stockpile was discovered by police who were investigating Italians “with extremist ideology” who had fought alongside Russian-backed separatist forces in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, last July, according to the police statement.
Police said the extensive arsenal found in Bergiolo’s home included included nine war rifles, a Scorpion war machine gun, seven other guns, three hunting rifles, 20 bayonets, 306 firearm parts and 831 pieces of ammunition.
The investigation relied on the help of an arms expert who contacted the suspects about purchasing the Matra missile on behalf of a third party, police said.
Throughout the course of the investigation, police used phone and data interception to view photos of the missile, which were exchanged via WhatsApp, they said.
The probe brought authorities to the home of Del Bergiolo, where an array of military-grade weapons and illegally held guns were found, according to police.
Del Bergiolo’s house allegedly also contained Nazi swastikas and references to the Nazi military Waffen-SS unit.
Investigations are ongoing to determine how the French-made Matra missile, which appeared to have once belonged to the Qatari armed forces, arrived in Italy.
The political party Forza Nuova has denied any current connection with Del Bergiolo.
“If one of the arrested was a candidate of Forza Nuova way back in 2001 (18 years ago!), we affirm that on the contrary none of the people involved have been militants of Forza Nuova - which has nothing to do with the search this morning,” a press officer for Forza Nuova told CNN.
Del Bergiolo’s lawyer, Fausto Moscatelli told CNN his client is a “weapons enthusiast.”
“My client is a collector and they sequestered weapons that were in his home. These weapons were not registered, but they were not connected to terrorism,” Moscatelli said.
“There was a misunderstanding with the Nazi paraphernalia, he also had fascist and USSR paraphernalia, but they (the police) only took things with swastikas,” he added.
Monti and Bernardi’s lawyer Alberto Minasi della Rocca told CNN that his clients “present, in a firm, clear and categorical manner, that they have nothing to do with extreme right-wing or ultra-nationalist circles” and are “light years away from that world.”
This story has been updated to correct the date the suspects were arrested.
CNN’s Rob Picheta contributed to this report.