Italy: Judge throws out migrant ‘kidnapping’ case against Matteo Salvini

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Senator Matteo Salvini, the leader of populist League party, avoided going to trial last week after a judge in Sicily threw out charges which claimed he — while serving as Italy’s interior minister — had unlawfully detained illegal boat migrants. The case’s dismissal ends the senator’s legal troubles in Catania; however, Salvini will have to appear in court for a similar matter this fall.

Judge Nunzio Sarpietro in the Sicilian city of Catania tossed out the case against Salvini on Friday, following recommendations made by prosecutor Andrea Bonomo that the populist senator not be tried since he “did not violate any national or international laws”, Italian newspaper TP24 reports.

The case dates back to July 2019, when magistrates accused then Interior Minister Salvini of “kidnapping” and “abusing his power” after he prevented 116 illegal migrants, most of whom were Sudanese, from disembarking from the Gregoretti coast guard ship for five days. On the six day, after a deal was brokered between Italy and other European Union member states, the standoff ended and the Gregoretti was allowed to dock at the Sicilian port of Augusta to offload the illegal migrants.

Salvini, from the outset of the case, maintained his innocence and defended his actions, insisting that what he did was absolutely necessary to protect Italy as the country attempted to grapple with a massive uptick in illegal migrant arrivals.

Following the incident, the Italian Senate in February 2020 laid the initial groundwork required for a trial when it voted to strip Salvini of the legal immunity he is normally afforded as a member of parliament.

Prior to the vote, Salvini addressed Italian lawmakers, defended his actions, and mentioned that he was ready to go to prison to defend his country.

“Our constitution clearly states that homeland protection is Italian citizens’ sacred duty,” he said before the debate in the senate began.

Despite the decision made by lawmakers to strip Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, prosecutors in Catania called on the judge to drop the charges, arguing that the actions taken by former interior minister had not violated any national or international laws, and were inline with the coalition government’s position on the issue. 

Following the judge’s decision to throw out the case, Salvini noted that the ruling shows that “a minister who defended the dignity and the borders of Italy is a minister who simply did his duty”.

“I dedicate this acquittal to my children and to the Italians, to the respectable foreigners and to the police who fight every day to make Italy safe,” Salvini’s told members of the Italian press as he left the courtroom.

Salvini also posted photos on social media celebrating his legal victory with his child, writing, “Finally home with my princess. The embrace of my children is the greatest joy, which makes me forget trials and threats, and gives me incredible strength.”

Salvini is not entirely out of the woods yet with respect to his legal troubles, however. The populist senator is set to face another trial — this time in Palermo — on the Sept. 15. For that case, Salvini is charged with kidnapping and abuse of office for preventing 164 illegal migrants from disembarking from the Spanish NGO ship Open Arms for six days in August 2019.

If he is found guilty, Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison.

After the judge’s decision to drop the case in Catania, Salvini, when asked about the case in Palermo, said: “If there was no kidnapping found in Catania, I don’t know why there should be any in Palermo.”

Salvini also told reporters: “When the Italians return to vote and give me back the government responsibility, I will do exactly the same thing because immigration — like that seen at Lamepdusa with 3,000 landings in a weekend — only brings chaos, and Italy doesn’t need chaos right now.”

The judge’s decision to throw out the case comes amid a massive surge of illegal migrant arriving on Italian shores. On May 9, nine boats carrying over 1,200 migrants from Tunisia, the Ivory Coast, and Bangladesh arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, bringing the monthly total of migrant arrivals to 3,000, as Remix News previously reported.

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