News The Italian Senate abolishes the defiant Salvini's immunity to...

The Italian Senate abolishes the defiant Salvini’s immunity to the migrant boat

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ROME, Feb. 12 (Reuters) – Italian senators voted on Wednesday for the right-wing leader Matteo Salvini’s immunity to be lifted, paving the way for a potentially career-ending trial for allegations that he illegally detained migrants at sea last year.

The result of the vote was due to be officially announced around 1800 GMT, but a Reuters record during the count showed a majority for the waiver of legal protection that Salvini, the former cabinet minister, had shielded.

The decision gives judges in Sicily the opportunity to indict his decision to block more than 100 migrants on board a coast guard ship for six days last July while he was waiting for other EU countries to agree to admission.

Salvini, the party leader of the Italian league, who was the minister of the interior at the time, could end up in prison for up to 15 years if found guilty at the end of the tortuous Italian court case. A conviction could also expel him from political office and undermine his ambitions to lead a future government.

Salvini was aware that the upper house Senate vote would speak against him and tried to make political capital out of the case. He said he only defended national interests.

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“I decided against my own interests … to go to court and rely on the impartiality of the judiciary,” said Salvini.

The Byzantine nature of the Italian legal system means that Salvini is not at immediate risk. However, the case could prove distracting as other investigations pile up on his door.

Earlier this month, another tribunal in Sicily recommended that Salvini be brought to justice for a separate conflict with migrants from last August. Parliament is expected to rule on this case later this year.

POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE

During his 14-month tenure at the Home Office, Salvini made combating migrant boats a priority, banned ports from rescuing ships, and fined charities.

In July, two weeks before he abandoned a coalition with the 5-star anti-establishment movement, he refused to allow migrants to disembark from the Gregoretti Coast Guard ship and ignored requests from human rights groups to have the group come ashore.

The judges in Sicily believe that it was an abuse of power that in fact led to a kidnapping. However, according to Italian law, former ministers cannot be brought to justice when in office unless the parliament approves the investigation.

“The Senate was asked a specific question. Did Minister Salvini act in the national interest? Yes or No? For us it is ‘No’. This was an election campaign with 100 people on board an Italian ship,” said left-wing politician Anna Ascani.

Related Slideshow: Messages in Pictures (provided by Photo Services)

The Gregoretti investigation takes up another case from last year when the judges tried to mourn Salvini’s decision to leave 150 migrants aboard a coast guard ship for five days in August 2018.

On this occasion, Parliament rejected the application with 5-star support and argued that the decision to keep migrants at sea was a collective decision. This time, his former allies said he had acted unilaterally without first agreeing.

The Senate decision came at an uncomfortable time for Salvini, whose skilful political touch seems to have left him.

The league remains Italy’s largest party with more than 30% support, recent polls say, but a defeat in key regional elections last month has thwarted Salvini’s recent efforts to overthrow the Rome government and return to power ,

His party also has two separate financial investigations into possible money laundering and international corruption on suspicions of raising millions of euros over a secret Russian oil deal – allegations that they deny. (Reporting by Angelo Amante writing by Crispian Balmer editing by Mark Heinrich)

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