Giorgia Meloni
Giorgia Meloni Reuters/ROMA/Sipa USA

Italy’s newly-appointed undersecretary at the infrastructure ministry, Galeazzo Bignami, is causing controversy after a photograph of him wearing a Nazi swastika armband was published in an Italian newspaper.

The scandal has come in the midst of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s push to distance herself from her party’s ties to neo-fascists.

The photo was taken during Bignami’s 2005 bachelor party, and when it was first published in 2016, the 47-year-old lawyer shrugged it off as “lighthearted” fun.

Last Monday, the day he was sworn into office, he said that he now feels “profound shame” over the photo and condemned “any form of totalitarianism,” and describing Nazism as “the absolute evil.”

Marco Furfaro, a deputy for the center-left Democratic Party, called the photo “an offense, an indecency against the constitution, history, memory and victims of the swastika,” adding, “Shame on you Giorgia Meloni.”

Reuters reported that Bignami has a long history in Italy’s far-right. He also spent time working in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s more moderate center-right Forza Italia party.

Meloni, the newest far-right leader in Europe, has connections to the Italian Social Movement, known as MSI, a neofascist party founded in 1946 by people who had worked with Mussolini. Meloni’s current party, Brothers of Italy, is closely tied to the group, housing its office in the same building where MSI operated and using an identical logo, a tricolor flame.

Some Italian Jews have worried that her election portends a rise in extremist sentiment. Thousands of marchers celebrated former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s rise to power last month, days after Meloni condemned fascism and racial laws from the 1930s that led to the persecution of Jews.