He challenges the leading judges of the Italian far right, but it is as a former minister of the interior that he appears: Matteo Salvini is summoned before a Sicilian court, Saturday, October 3, for having prevented the landing migrants rescued at sea.
The head of the Lega is being sued by heads of“Abuse of power and sequestration of people” for having stranded during the summer of 2019 for several days 116 migrants aboard an Italian Coast Guard vessel, the Gregoretti.
Migrants had been evacuated for medical reasons but 116 others remained on the ship for almost a week, for lack of authorization to disembark from Mr. Salvini, then Minister of the Interior of a government formed by the League (his far-right party) and the “anti-system” of the 5-Star Movement (M5S).
Italian senators have lifted his parliamentary immunity and he faces up to 15 years in prison, but Saturday’s hearing is lip service and the outcome of the judicial process remains uncertain. For Matteo Salvini, justice replaces the popular voice.
Arrived in Sicily two days before the debates, he said on Thursday “Absolutely serene” and said to have prepared “A beautiful costume” for the audience. “I would prefer that the judges devote themselves to capturing the Mafiosi and delinquents”, he told his supporters on the island where the Cosa Nostra criminal organization flourished, and where thousands of migrants from North Africa arrive each year by sea. “It is the Italians, in the next elections, who will say whether Salvini acted well or badly”, he added.
In the Italian judicial system, the actual trial does not begin until after a preliminary hearing before a magistrate in which the prosecution and the defense present their arguments before a judge, who decides on the referral to justice, or no, of the mis en cause.
The prosecution may request that the case be dismissed, but the judge may ignore this and force the prosecution to formulate a charge. After two or three hearings, the judge is expected to make his decision, according to media reports. Saturday’s hearing in Sicily will be devoted solely to the constitution of civil parties.
Matteo Salvini has summoned his troops to Catania for three days of meetings and demonstrations during which he wants to demonstrate having popular support. Many national and local elected officials of the League, as well as allies of other right-wing parties, have announced their presence.
“For Fratelli d´Italia [FDI, extrême droite], sue Matteo Salvini because he tried to defend national borders and our laws (…) is a wrong and shameful thing ”said Francesco Lollobrigida, head of FDI deputies. FDI boss Giorgia Meloni announced her participation in a demonstration in Catania on Saturday after the hearing.
Involve the Prime Minister
Matteo Salvini’s defense strategy is to involve Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in ensuring that the blocking of the ship was a collective government decision. Mr. Conte disputes this version of events, recalling that Matteo Salvini had at the time approved a new decree-law strengthening his powers.
Matteo Salvini also risks facing a similar trial in the short term, in Palermo, having blocked the humanitarian boat for several days in mid-August 2019 Open-Arms in front of Lampedusa Island.
The 47-year-old Milanese entered Giuseppe Conte’s coalition government in 2018 after his party’s historic score in the legislative elections, taking over the interior portfolio. But in August 2019, on the strength of favorable polls, “Il Capitano”, also Deputy Prime Minister, caused a government crisis with his M5S partners, hoping to reshuffle the cards during early legislative elections.
The maneuver failed, Mr. Salvini taken in reverse: the M5S managed to form a new government with the Democratic Party (PD, center left) and the League was ousted.
Since then, the man has lost in public display, Giorgia Meloni overshadows him, and the pandemic and the economic crisis have become the main concern of Italians, ahead of immigration.