Italian prosecutor Andrea Bonomo said in court on Saturday that there was no reason for former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to stand trial on charges of illegally detaining hundreds of migrants on a ship moored off the Italian coast in July 2019.
Bonomo said in a preliminary hearing in Catania, Sicily, that Salvini should not be tried because his decision did not violate international treaties.
“We also cannot talk about illegal detention because the Gregoretti Coast Guard vessel where the migrants were located was a so-called safe place to provide them with medical care,” he warned.
He added that the then government had supported Salvini’s decision and his overall position on the issue, also with regard to the cabinet’s call on the EU to discuss another mechanism for allocating migrants to countries within the EU.
Salvini has praised the prosecutor for his decision.
“I’m happy because today the public prosecution said there was no crime, no kidnapping, that I have respected national and international laws, that we have saved lives and awakened Europe. Hearing this pays me back for months and months of bitterness, so I will calmly return to my children and hope that this will be over on May 14,” Salvini said about the prosecutor telling the judge in the case that there was no crime.
The decision on whether to continue the trial will be made on May 14.
Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. If sentenced to more than two years behind bars, he could be banned from holding public office for the next six years, making it impossible for him to run in the 2023 parliamentary elections.
This is the second such case charging Salvini for actions he took as interior minister, during which he banned all NGO rescue ships from entering Italian ports.
The whole government wanted it, Salvini argues
In August 2019, the ship of the Spanish NGO Open Arms spent days outside Lampedusa waiting for permission to enter the port, while the situation on board worsened.
The League (Lega Nord), Salvini’s party, takes a hard line on migrants entering Italy, arguing that the country faces an unfair burden as the first entry point for people traveling from Africa to Europe.
During the blockade of ships with migrants, Salvini held the position of minister of the interior and deputy prime minister in the coalition government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. He claims that the decision is not just his, because the whole cabinet agreed on it.