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

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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 said he was happy with the prosecutor’s request not to go forward with a trial, and that it “pays me back for months and months of bitterness”. He added that he had been caught up in the case for simply doing his job.

“When I was a minister I would take on everything, honours as well as obligations,” Salvini told reporters as he came out of the hearing, adding that he would do the same thing again.

The leader of 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.

Salvini added that he would now rather spend his Saturdays “talking of true, real problems, such as the vaccination plan, the reopening of businesses and helping entrepreneurs who suffered from the health crisis rather than spending my time in courtrooms”.

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.