Two years ago Matteo Salvini’s anti-migration policy caused a sensation across Europe, now the former Italian interior minister is going to court in Palermo for it.
A judge in the Sicilian capital decided to open a trial on Saturday. He set September 15 as the start date, as the Adnkronos news agency reported at the end of the preliminary hearing. The head of the right-wing Lega party is accused of delaying the private Spanish rescue ship “Open Arms” with migrants on board for a long time at sea and preventing it from calling at Italian ports.
In an initial reaction, the 48-year-old politician wrote that he was going into the trial with his head held high. According to the reports, Salvini is to answer for abuse of office and deprivation of liberty. The Lega boss rejects the allegations of a criminal offense. This was also emphasized by his lawyer Giulia Bongiorno at the preliminary hearing. Salvini always argued that he had acted in the interests of Italy and together with the then center-right government under Giuseppe Conte. According to Savini, the crew of the “Open Arms” could have called at other ports, for example in Malta. The aid organization welcomed the court order on Saturday.
As a minister, Salvini had repeatedly held up ships carrying boat migrants until other EU countries had agreed to accept the people. The odyssey of the “Open Arms”, which saved around 150 people, lasted three weeks, according to the operator. A week later, the ship was waiting off the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.
Salvini’s lawyer pointed out after the appointment in Palermo that the judge had not yet passed a judgment with his decision. You only go formally into a new phase.
During a further preliminary hearing in the city of Catania in the case of another ship, the public prosecutor’s office recently called for the termination. The ex-interior minister did not violate any international conventions in the blockade of boat migrants, argued the authority there. It concerns a coast guard ship, the “Gregoretti”, on which 131 migrants had to wait at the end of July 2019. In Catania, the court wants to decide whether to start the process in mid-May.
Salvini could face up to 15 years imprisonment if convicted. Its political activity could also be temporarily stopped. Salvini’s Lega has been an important part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad government alliance since mid-February. The Lega boss himself has not had a cabinet post for a long time.