Italian prosecutor says Salvini should not be tried in Gregoretti migrant case

FILE PHOTO: Far-right leader Matteo Salvini speaks during a news conference in Catania, Italy, October 3, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) – A prosecutor said on Saturday that Italy’s right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini should not be sent to trial over illegally detaining migrants in a case being considered by a court in the Sicilian city of Catania.

The high-profile case, for which former Prime Minister Conte was also asked to testify, centres on an incident in July 2019, when Salvini, then interior minister, blocked more than 100 people aboard a coastguard ship for six days as he waited for European allies to agree to resettle them.

Magistrates have argued that Salvini kidnapped the migrants, not allowing them to disembark the Gregoretti but rather keeping them at sea in fierce heat off of the port of Augusta.

Prosecutor Andrea Bonomo said on Saturday that the former minister should not be tried, as his decision did not violate international treaties and was not to be considered kidnapping, given that the coastguard ship was a so-called place of safety where migrants were given medical assistance and support.

Bonomo, speaking at a court hearing, added that the government backed Salvini’s decision and his policy overall, given the coalition had asked Europe to discuss a different mechanism to allocate migrants in the bloc.

A decision on whether or not to proceed with the trial will be taken by a judge on May 14.

Salvini, who heads the anti-immigrant League party, has always argued that he was acting in the national interest and that the entire government backed his initiative, something Conte has disputed.

In a separate case, in Palermo, a prosecutor has formally called for Salvini to be indicted for kidnapping over his decision in August 2019 to prevent migrants from disembarking from another ship, a rescue ship operated by charity Open Arms.

A final decision on whether to proceed with that case rests with a senior judge.

Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Frances Kerry

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