During his year at the head of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Matteo Salvini never stopped fighting illegal immigration. The boss of the League in Italy is accused of kidnapping because he blocked a boat of illegal migrants off the coast of Sicily when he was Minister of the Interior.
This perfectly sound policy has now been turned against him – as a crime. In fact, the Italian Senate authorized on Wednesday, February 12, voted for legal action against the leader of the League, accusing him of kidnapping people, for having blocked a boat of illegal migrants, reported Italian daily Il Giornale. His parliamentary immunity was also lifted by the Senate.
It is a court in Catania (Sicily) which has been accusing the leader of the biggest party in Italy of “abuse of power and forcible confinement of persons” for having blocked 116 migrants for several days on board the Gregoretti, a ship of the Italian coast guard.
If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and ineligibility to be elected as any party representative for six to eight years. But Matteo Salvini will undoubtedly have to wait several years before knowing the final verdict, given the slowness of Italian justice and the possibilities of appeal.
During his speech, before the vote, the strong man of the Italian rightwing “claimed with pride” his action as a minister. He explained that it was his “duty” to defend the country’s borders when he was Minister of the Interior.
“My two children have the right to know that, if their dad was often far from home, it was not to kidnap people but to defend the borders and the security of the country,” he said. “Opponents must be beaten in the ballot boxes, not in the courts,” he said.
Despite somewhat disappointing results in regional elections in the leftist fief of the Emilia-Romagna region recently, the leader of the League remains the most popular politician in Italy and the undisputed champion of political communication.
In his defense, his party could adopt a simple strategy which would be to involve Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, pointing out that blocking the ship was a collective decision. But the interested party disputes this version since according to him, he was not involved in the specific decision of whether to allow the migrants to disembark.
According to Conte the blocking was not made possible by him but by the “approval a new decree-law which strengthened his [Salvini’s] hand. Thus “the choice to make not to disembark the people aboard the Gregoretti, and also when to do it” was as a result of the Security Decree.
Indeed, the Minister of the Interior at the time had passed a law strengthening his powers and providing that “the Minister may limit and prohibit the entry, transit or stopping of ships in territorial waters for reasons order and public security,” reported French daily Le Figaro.
But Matteo Salvini recalled a case similar to Gregoretti, in August 2018, when 177 migrants were also prevented from disembarking. At the time, the government had defended the idea of a “collegial decision” and the Senate had blocked a request for referral to court against Matteo Salvini.
The Senate’s immunity panel had already given the OK for the Catania court of ministers’ request to parliament to proceed against Salvini for allegedly abusing his power and the floor of the Upper House has now ratified the decision to lift Salvini’s parliamentary immunity.
Salvini, who operated a closed ports policy also faced prosecution before but his parliamentary immunity was lifted, but he said he was not afraid of the consequences. “I’m absolutely relaxed about this and proud of what I did,” Salvini told ANSA after the vote, which members of his party did not take part in.
“I’ll do it again as soon as I get back in government. I swore on the Constitution, which says that defending the nation is every citizen’s duty. I will defended Italy,” Salvini said and as in other such cases, his decision was made with the rest of the government he was then part of.
On the day the Senate voted to grant authorization to proceed against Matteo Salvini, a video has popped up in which Prime Minister Conte admitted that the choices which made, were shared by the whole government.
In the video, published on Facebook by the leader of the League, the premier is questioned on the subject during a press conference, and he replies without hesitation: “As regards the Gregoretti ship, I demanded an investigation regarding the e-email. Certainly from the first response there was an involvement of the presidency as has always happened with relocation.”
Salvini told reporters present at Palazzo Madama on Thursday: “I will not run away.” He also wanted to highlight the differences that distinguishes him from his political opponents: “In life I will never ask for judges to judge Conte, Zingaretti or Di Maio. The judgment that matters is that of the people.”
Interviewed on Radio Radio, however, the ex-Minister of the Interior noted: “All those with whom we have always shared these choices, today have vanished, they were not in the Chamber. There was no Conte, Di Maio, Bonafede… Honor and dignity cannot be bought in the supermarket.”
The legislative branch in Italy has meanwhile restarted their full assault on Salvini. In Milan, the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday ended an investigation related to a request by Carola Rackete for Salvini to stand trial on charges of defaming the captain of the Sea Watch 3 migrant rescue ship.
Rackete’s lawyers filed the lawsuit in July 2019. Salvini told ANSA that even if he had to stand trial in another case, “it will simply be yet one more. It isn’t a problem. Someone who rams into Italian military patrol boats has nothing to teach me”.
He added that “in a normal country, would a German lady hitting a military boat result in the interior minister going to trial instead of her? This is surreal.” On this Wednesday, in fact, the request for a six-month extension in investigations by the local prosecutor arrived from Agrigento, where Rackete herself is under investigation for resistance to public officials, ramming a warship and aiding and abetting illegals.
Rackete had ignored all warnings and a ban as she rammed a patrol boat of the Guardia di Finanza at the entrance to the port of Lampedusa last June 29, last year.
The members of the Sea Watch announced the lawsuit through a post published on Twitter: “Salvini will be judged for the defamation to which he made himself responsible towards Carola Rackete. A personal aggression that has endangered the safety of our captain. We will become a civil party in the proceedings.”
For the leader of the League, two trials have emerged within a few hours of each other. But while the one on the Gregoretti has made headlines in the country, the defamation suit brought by Rackete has been largely ignored by the media.
The complaint against Salvini was filed in Milan by Carola Rackete on July 12, 2019. According to the captain of the Sea Watch 3, the reasons for her lawsuit lie in the fact that the former minister “did not use his legitimate right of criticism”, but made aggressive and defamatory statements “to me as a person with direct and indirect threatening tones”. Some words used by Salvini, such as sbruffoncella which means “clown”, “outlaw” and “delinquent” were singled out.
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