Italian Senate Blocks Migrant "Kidnapping" Case Against Salvini

The Diciotti in Catania, Sicily, August 2018 (UNHCR / Alessio Mamo)

By The Maritime Executive 02-19-2019 05:26:42

On Thursday, an Italian senate committee voted 16 to 6 to block a trial for Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has been under investigation for kidnapping after he ordered 150 maritime migrants held on board an Italian coast guard cutter.

On August 15, 2018, the Italian cutter Diciotti took aboard 190 migrants from an overloaded boat off Lampedusa. The crew sent 13 survivors ashore for medical care, then spent four days at sea while Italy and Malta debated where she would be permitted to dock. Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli eventually allowed the Diciotti to enter the port of Catania, Sicily, but Salvini insisted that the migrants could not disembark unless they were taken in by other nations. He relented in part on August 22, allowing 27 minors to get off the cutter, but 150 individuals were held until August 26, when the Catholic Church and the governments of Albania and Ireland agreed to accept them. 

Prosecutors in Catania opened an inquiry into whether Salvini had abused his authority and committed an act of kidnapping by holding the migrants on board, offenses punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Salvini initially said that he was "not at all" afraid, and expressed willingness to be arrested for his decision. In January, a court in Sicily ruled that the case should proceed to trial - an action that the Italian Senate has the authority to block.

Salvini is the leader of the populist League party, which is a partner of the Five Star Movement in Italy's current governing coalition. Five Star came to power by campaigning for accountability: the movement's leader, Luigi Di Maio, once asserted that "we cannot allow a minister of interior under investigation to remain in office," referring to a case against Salvini's predecessor. 

With the current interior minister under investigation, Five Star faced a challenging test of principle. Ultimately, the party put the matter to an online referendum, asking its supporters to vote whether or not Salvini should be prosecuted. Nearly 60 percent of respondents favored halting the investigation, and the Five Star-led committee voted accordingly.