Rome, Feb 13: The Italian upper house, the Senate, voted on Wednesday to allow prosecutors to try the country's far-right leader and former interior Matteo Salvini over charges of holding migrants at sea, after stripping him of his immunity from prosecution under Italian law.
According to the BBC the Senate voted 152- 76 in favour of lifting the immunity of Mr Salvini. If successfully prosecuted, Mr. Salvini could face up to 15 years in jail. Mr Salvini, who won the election on his anti-immigrant stance, is accused of illegally keeping 116 people on a boat off the coast of Sicily aboard the ship Gregoretti for close to a week in August 2019. A defiant Mr Salvini said he wants to go to court. He told the chamber he wanted "to tell the world" that his migration policies "saved tens of thousands of lives."
Mr. Salvini went as far as to compare himself to US President Donald Trump, who was impeached in December and accused opponents of undermining his electoral success through the courts. "I am like Trump? '' he said. He has a few more billions and a few more years, but it's a bad little habit of the left, going around in the world, to try to win by judicial means," he wrote on Twitter. "I am absolutely calm and proud of what I have done. And I'll do it again as soon as I get back into government," he said later.
Senators from his League party left the chamber rather than take part in Wednesday's vote. As Interior Minister, Mr Salvini followed a hardline policy towards the illegal immigrants fleeing war and prosecution and implemented a closed ports policy. On 25 July 2019, Italian coast guard ship the Gregoretti had picked up about 140 migrants trying to reach Italy from Libya. While the Gregoretti allowed several people off the ship for medical attention, some 116 people remained on board for days while Mr Salvini demanded other EU countries take them in. This decision was roundly criticised around the world and it was only after the Catholic Church and a number of states agreed to care for those aboard the ship, that Mr Salvini eventually agreed to let the ship dock on 31 July.
At the time Mr Salvini had said that the decision to keep the migrants on the boat had the support of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the rest of the government. But the prosecutors are not willing to buy that argument and have said that Mr Salvini acted alone while ignoring repeated requests from Mr Conte to release them. Italy's populist Five Star Movement government which at the time was in coalition with the League, had backed Mr Salvini in previous cases, such as when 140 migrants on board the vessel Diciotti were not allowed to embark in Sicily for six days in 2018. But the party says that in the case of Gregoretti he acted alone. Later in February Mr Salvini is likely to lose his immunity over another migrant case, the Open Arms migrant vessel which was kept off the Italian shore for days in August last year at Mr Salvini's orders. UNI