Matteo Salvini, on 12 February 2020, before the Senate, in Rome. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP
The Italian Senate has decided, on Wednesday 12 February. The current leader of the far-right Italian, Matteo Salvini, should be returned to court for blocking a boat of migrants when he was the minister of the interior.
The official result of the vote will be communicated to 19 hours (Paris time), but the electronic scoreboard of the votes seen by many journalists from the Agence France-Presse (AFP), indicating for a few seconds the result of the poll made clear its reference to justice, confirmed by all the Italian media.
The Italian Constitution allows the Parliament to block a prosecution against a minister if elected officials believe that he acted within the framework of its duties and in the best interests of the State. This green light from the Senate opens the way to a trial. The former minister is liable to fifteen years imprisonment.
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Collective decision-making against the personal decision
Before senators on Wednesday, the leader of the populist party of the League has claimed its decision. “I will not go into this court room to defend myself, I will go to claim with pride what I’ve done “, he launched to the senators, reiterating that it was his “duty” to defend the country’s borders when he was the minister of the interior.
Specifically, he is accused by a court of Catania, in Sicily, “abuse of power and illegal confinement of people” for having blocked last summer, during several days, 116 migrants on board a ship of the Italian coast guard, the Gregoretti. A few dozen migrants had been evacuated for medical reasons, but the others remained on the ship for nearly a week, due to lack of permission to land. Mr Salvini was then interior minister of a government formed by the League (his party) and the anti-establishment Movement 5 stars (M5S).
At this stage, the strategy of Mr. Salvini is an attempt to involve the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, claiming that the blocking of the vessel in July 2019 was a collective decision of the government. Mr. Conte, renewed in September at the head of an executive formed this time of M5S and the democratic Party, main party of the left, denies this version of events. According to the head of the government, Salvini a, before the episode Gregoretti, ” to approve a new decree-law which strengthened his skills, he has claimed that the choice to do or not to disembark persons on board the Gregoretti, and also on the time to do it “. In June 2019, Mr. Salvini has actually passed a law strengthening its powers, and providing that ” the minister of the interior may restrict and prohibit the entry, transit or stopping of vessels in the territorial waters for reasons of public order and safety “.
In his defence, Mr Salvini puts forward a similar case to the Gregoretti, dating back to August 2018, when 177 migrants aboard the vessel, the Italian coast guard Diciotti had been prevented from landing for several days. At the time, the government had defended the idea of a collegiate decision, and the Senate had blocked a request of removal in the court of law against Mr Salvini.
Blocking of the Open Arms
The concerns of the Salvini do not stop at the case of the Gregoretti. A Senate committee will decide, on the 27th of February, on another referral request in court, this time, the ship humanitarian Open Arms, blocked in mid-August 2019 for several days in front of the island of Lampedusa, on the order of Mr. Salvini.
Even after his likely referral to the tribunal of ministers, a special court composed of three judges experienced in Catania, Mr. Salvini will probably have to wait years to be fixed on his fate, on account of the slowness of the Italian justice and the possibility of appeal. In the event of a final conviction, that is to say, in the last instance by the Court of cassation, the boss of the League is liable also to a penalty of ineligibility of six to eight years.
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