- Before the vote, Salvini "proudly" defended his action as a minister.
- In July last year, Salvini prevented 116 immigrants from landing in Italy for nearly a week while on board a Coast Guard ship.
- The Senate decision could hamper the political ambitions of Salvini, who wants to lead a future far-right government.
The Italian Senate voted on Wednesday to authorize the opening of a lawsuit against Matteo Salvini, leader of the extreme right-wing Liga party and former Interior Minister, for blocking more than 100 migrants in the Mediterranean. Salvini is accused of “abuse of power and kidnapping of people,” a crime punishable by up to fifteen years in prison, and which would bar him from holding public office.
Before the vote, Salvini “proudly” defended his action as a minister. “It’s crazy, I don’t know how much it costs in terms of personnel and money to prove that I’m a criminal, but I’m not afraid and I will explain that I defended my country,” Salvini told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
The former interior minister applied a strict immigration policy, and managed to become one of the most popular leaders on the peninsula. Salvini championed the measure, which involved closing ports and blocking migrants from coming, many of whom risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. “I can’t wait to go to court and look the judge in the eye and explain to him that defending my country’s borders was my right and duty and not a crime,” Salvini insisted.
In July last year, Salvini prevented 116 immigrants from landing in Italy for nearly a week while on board a Coast Guard ship. Then-Minister of the Interior of a government formed by the League and the populist 5 Star Movement (M5S), Salvini hoped, with the measure, that the other European countries would share the migratory burden.
The Senate decision could hamper the political ambitions of Salvini, who wants to lead a future far-right government. The League is now a minority in the Senate, where the M5S and the center-left Democratic Party, allied in government for six months, enjoy the majority of the votes of the 319 senators. According to the Italian Constitution, Parliament can prevent a minister from being prosecuted by his administration.
Salvini took the opportunity to emphasize that the decision to block migrants was taken collectively, as it was the line adopted by the government and supported by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. For Conte, who has led the M5S-PD coalition since August, this version does not correspond to the truth. In June 2019, after a year in power, Salvini strengthened his powers after obtaining the approval of a law that authorized him to limit and even prevent the transit of vessels in Italian waters.
In August 2019, just before the government crisis, he blocked the humanitarian vessel “Open Arms” for days, in front of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. On February 27, a Senate committee is also expected to decide on opening a trial in this case. If they approve the authorization, the ex-minister will be tried by a special court composed of three recognized magistrates. The outcome, however, may take several years, given the slowness of the Italian courts and the possibilities of appeal.