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Famed Italian mayor charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration

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Famed Italian mayor charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration
Domenico Lucano in June 2011. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP
12:35 CEST+02:00
Mayor of Riace Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano, known internationally for his championing of migrant causes, was taken by police in a dawn arrest on Tuesday on charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration to Italy.

He is also accused of misconduct for allocating contracts for the town's waste collection service to two social cooperatives without a public tender; but additional charges of embezzlement, fraud against the state, and bribery have already been dropped, according to La Repubblica.

The main charge arising from the investigation known as “Operation Xenia”, led by the public prosecutor for Locri and carried out by Italy's Financial Police, centres on claims that Lucano falsified documents and facilitated sham marriages so that migrants could obtain permits to remain in Italy.

Police say they intercepted a conversation in which the mayor can be heard conspiring to obtain residency for a Nigerian girl who has been denied status in Italy by printing her an ID card listing her as resident in Riace, and advising his interlocutors to have her married as soon as possible to an Italian citizen.

“To disobey these crazy laws I go against the law,” he reportedly says during the conversation.

Lucano and his partner Tesfahun Lemlem have been placed under house arrest.

The town of Riace. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

READ ALSO: Italy needs migrants to pay for pensions: social security chief

Riace, a small town in the Calabrian “toe” of Italy's boot, has in recent years become a symbol of refugee hospitality in Europe and has drawn international attention for the “Riace model”, whereby migrants are given free housing in the town's abandoned homes, and money allocated by the Interior Ministry is given to social cooperatives which provide the migrants with job training and a small salary.

In 2016 the mayor was profiled in Fortune Magazine's list of the World's Top 50 Leaders for his role in devising the novel system.

An Ethiopian girl walks past a mural that says "Where are the clouds going?" in June 2011. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

Lucano has in the past embraced the moniker of “rebel mayor” and has not hidden his disdain for the current populist government's migration policy, having staged a hunger strike in August when the government blocked certain funds to the town.

Reactions to the mayor's arrest from the country's political leaders were mixed.

“Damn, what will those goody two shoes who want to fill Italy with immigrants say!” Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, who has in the past publicly butted heads with Lucano, wrote on twitter.

Others expressed dismay at the charges.

MEP Cécile Kyenge, Italy's former integration minister, wrote "The judge of the Court of Locri states that "the widespread malpractice that emerged during the investigations has not translated into any criminal allegations” Ergo, no crime has emerged. So what is the fault of #MimmoLucano? Perhaps solidarity and humanity?"

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