Accused of having prevented the disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea, the former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini appears on Saturday before a judge in Sicily where demonstrations of support for the far-right leader are planned.
Matteo Salvini is being prosecuted for “abuse of power and kidnapping of people” for having blocked during the summer of 2019 for several days 116 migrants aboard an Italian coastguard 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).
Last February, the Senate voted to lift his immunity, paving the way for prosecution. Matteo Salvini, bubbling forty-something known for his language differences, had then bravely defended his policy.
“I will plead guilty to defending Italy and the Italians,” he recently said to his supporters.
And Wednesday on his Twitter account he assured that he would go to trial “with a clear conscience, with the pride of having defended the honor of Italy”.
In the Italian judicial system, the actual trial begins only 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 closed, but the judge may disregard this and force the prosecution to formulate a charge.
After two-three hearings, the dates of which have not been set, the judge is expected to make his decision, according to media reports.
Saturday's hearing in Sicily will only be devoted to the constitution of civil parties.
Nunzio Sarpietro, an experienced judge who will lead the debates, recently assured the daily La Repubblica that Matteo Salvini will find in him a magistrate “who will guarantee him a fair and equitable trial, like any other citizen”.
Another trial in sight
Matteo Salvini, who faces 15 years in prison, reiterated that he did only his duty and nothing illegal.
“That there is a court which allows itself to judge a political and government choice of a minister is a dangerous precedent”, commented Wednesday Mr. Salvini.
Matteo Salvini's defense strategy is to involve Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte by ensuring that the blocking of the ship was a collective government decision.
Mr. Conte disputes this version of the facts, recalling that Matteo Salvini had at the time approved a new decree-law strengthening his powers.
In June 2019, Mr. Salvini had effectively passed a law strengthening his powers and providing that “the Minister of the Interior may limit and prohibit the entry, transit or stopping of ships in territorial waters for reasons of 'public order and security'.
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.
Matteo Salvini risks facing another similar trial in the short term, in Palermo, having blocked for several days in mid-August 2019 the humanitarian boat Open Arms in front of the island of Lampedusa.
In this case, the Senate lifted its immunity in July, paving the way for a possible referral to justice, on the same terms as in the case of the ship Gregoretti.