Italy's Senate clears way for trial of ex-minister Salvini over migrant ship
Former interior minister refused to allow 164 migrants to get off a ship in Sicily last August
The Italian Senate voted Thursday to lift right-wing leader Matteo Salvini's immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for possible charges against the former interior minister for refusing to allow 164 migrants to get off a ship in Sicily.
The case from last August is the third involving a rescue ship standoff in which Italian prosecutors have sought kidnapping charges against Salvini, who is now head of the anti-immigrant League party.
During his 14 months as interior minister, he repeatedly denied ships carrying rescued migrants access to Italy's ports. The policy resulted in numerous standoffs, leaving migrants stuck at sea for long weeks before European countries could identify a willing port or courts intervened.
In the current case, Salvini refused access to the aid ship Open Arms, which remained at sea for three weeks until it was finally allowed to enter a port on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
There was no indication of when a trial could be held. The indictment decision rests with a senior judge. Salvini could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty at the end of a tortuous, three-stage judicial process.
A definitive conviction could bar him from office, scuppering his ambition to lead a future government.
Salvini says he wants to clear name
The Senate in February also cleared Salvini to face possible charges for refusing a landing berth to an Italian coast guard vessel that had picked up 141 migrants rescued by two other boats a year ago.
The Gregoretti was stuck at sea for days until a judge approved its landing in Augusta, Sicily.
In both the Gregoretti and the Open Arms cases, Salvini said he wants to face charges to clear his name.
"Thank you to all of those who will send me to trial because you are giving me a big gift," he said before Thursday's vote.
"In that courtroom, I will — differently from others — I will go with my head held high and my back straight. Thank you."
But in another case that went to the Senate while he still served as Italy's minister, Salvini's party voted not to lift his immunity, protecting him from prosecution for not allowing 190 migrants to disembark from another coast guard ship in August 2018.
The Diciotti was stuck at sea for five days, then sat in port for another five before all the migrants were allowed landfall.
With files from Reuters