Italy’s coalition government faces split over possible Salvini kidnap trial

Italy's Five Star Movement is using an online poll to help it decide whether to block a potential trial against League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for alleged kidnapping and abuse of power.

Italy's coalition government faces split over possible Salvini kidnap trial
League leader Matteo Salvini could face trial. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors in southern Italy are pushing for an investigation into Salvini’s actions after the head of the far-right League party refused to let migrants disembark from a rescue ship.

The Five Star Movement (M5S) and League have been governing in an uneasy coalition since June but frequently clash over key electoral pledges.

M5S, billed as an anti-establishment party, prides itself on honesty and has long railed against politicians who have used their parliamentary privilege to avoid trials. It previously said that any minister accused of a crime should resign.

Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio. Photo: AFP

But the party seems reluctant to upset its coalition partner, and commentators think it is likely to vote to block the trial.

The M5S official blog told members this case was “different” from those where ministers had tried to get away with “bribes, fraud or rigging the markets”, because Salvini was doing his job and “not acting for personal interest”.

The movement's leader Luigi Di Maio has said Salvini was acting with their full support and that he would would stand trial alongside him.

The case concerns the stand-off over the Diciotti, which was left in limbo for ten days in August after taking onboard more than 150 people, including children, who Salvini refused permission to land in Italy. 

The ship was eventually allowed to disembark in Sicily only after the Catholic Church had brokered a deal with Ireland and Albania to take the migrants in.

READ ALSO: 'Italian ports are closed', Salvini warns migrant rescue ship seeking shelter from storm

A Senate committee is scheduled to discuss the matter on Tuesday, after which the Senate will vote – with M5S senators taking their lead from the result of the online poll.

The final word on whether Salvini can keep his protection lies with parliament. 

Photo: Alessandro Fucarini/AFP

The M5S poll, which is being held today, allows party members to say whether they think Salvini should be stripped of parliamentary protection, allowing a possible trial.

However, the poll question put to members was ridiculed by both M5S sympathisers and the opposition as being purposefully misleading.

“Was the delay in the disembarkation of the Diciotti, in order to redistribute the migrants in various European countries, taken in order to protect the interests of the state?” the question reads.

Answering “Yes” will stop the investigation, while “No” allows prosecutors to continue, according to the website.

Salvini, whose League party has soared ahead of the M5S in popularity in the polls, said Sunday he was not worried about the vote because he had “given (his) word” that the government would not fall.


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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.