ROME – Italy’s far-right firebrand Matteo Salvini is set to face trial over his handling of the country’s migrant policies as interior minister.
Senators voted to lift the League Party leader’s parliamentary immunity on Wednesday, clearing the way for him to face accusations of “migrant kidnapping” in relation to his decision as head of Italy’s domestic affairs to prevent 131 migrants from disembarking a coastguard ship at an Italian port in July last year.
The court for ministers in Catania, which handles cases involving government officials, had requested the Senate lift the protection afforded to the populist lawmaker.
A Senate committee will decide on a separate accusation of migrant kidnapping, this time related to Spanish NGO ship Open Arms, later in the month.
The first case deals with Salvini’s decision to keep 131 people trapped on a ship for five days off the Italian coast as he lobbied for other EU countries to take in the migrants, arguing Italy had become overburdened.
Salvini operated a closed ports policy as interior minister.
Appearing before senators on Wednesday, Salvini said he had acted to defend the nation.
The anti-immigration politician said his policies “had saved thousands of lives,” adding that the so-called liberal migrant policies adopted by previous governments had provoked huge flows of migrants to Italy in which “15,000” people lost their lives.
“I want to go before the courts in full confidence of the independence of the judiciary and later come back before my voters with my head held high,” he said.
The Senate committee had on 20 January recommended Salvini’s immunity be lifted and the former interior minister went on to urge his own party to vote in favor of going to trial.
Observers saw his apparently self-destructive advice as a political gimmick to shore up support before regional elections in Emilia-Romagna, which his party went on to lose to the center-left Democratic Party.
Salvini currently finds himself in the parliamentary opposition, having abandoned the coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is now in bed with the Democratic Party.