An Italian judge in Catania has ruled that the leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, Matteo Salvini, shouldn’t stand trial over claims he kidnapped a group of migrants in July 2019 when he refused to let them disembark.
The allegations center around a July 2019 incident where, as Italy’s interior minister, Salvini refused to allow 131 migrants on a coast guard vessel to disembark, until EU member states agreed a deal on redistributing the refugees.
While negotiations were ongoing with EU nations, the migrants had been forced to remain aboard the Italian vessel Bruno Gregoretti for six days while it was docked in Sicily’s port.
The judge in Catania sided with prosecutors who had asked that Salvini not face trial over the charge of kidnapping, as his political decision did not violate international treaties and did not warrant further investigation.
The decision in the Catania case is at odds with a decision made in a Palermo court in April 2021, where a judge ruled that Salvini must stand trial for the same incident over the kidnapping charges. If found guilty, the leader could face up to 15 years in prison and be permanently barred from holding government office.
Responding to the ruling on Friday, Salvini declared “If there was no kidnapping in Catania, then I do not see why there should be kidnapping in Palermo.”
The Palermo trial will kick off on September 15.
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Salvini’s League party caused Italy’s coalition government to collapse in 2019 after pulling out of the administration in an attempt to trigger an election. Having failed to force the country to head to the polls, the League has since joined Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.
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