Riace mayor ‘Mimmi’ Lucano to be tried on illegal immigration charges

A high-profile Italian mayor was ordered to face court over charges he illegally helped foreigners stay in the country after their asylum applications were rejected, even though Italy's highest court has cast doubt on the charges.

Riace mayor 'Mimmi' Lucano to be tried on illegal immigration charges
Domenico Lucano, centre, is credited for one of Italy's most successful integration projects. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Domenico “Mimmi” Lucano, under house arrest after being apprehended in October, was on Thursday told by an investigating magistrate in the southern region of Reggio Calabria to turn up for a June 11th hearing in the city of Locri.

Prosecutors allege he organized sham marriages to help foreign women win residency rights and failed to put to tender a garbage collection contract that went to a migrant-linked cooperative.

READ ALSO: After mayor's arrest, Italy's model migrant town struggles to survive

Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

The indictment came despite a ruling last week by Italy's highest court of appeal that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in connection with the waste collection contract, which they said the mayor was entitled to award directly to associations that aim to help disadvantage people.

On the other charges, the Court of Cassation ruled that Lucano may have sought to help his Ethiopian-born partner, Lemlem Tesfahun, stay in Italy – but said that their relationship, as well as his lack of any prior criminal record, should be taken into account. 

Teshafun and 25 others also face charges and have been ordered to appear in court alongside Lucano.

READ ALSO: Anger over Italian government's 'war' on model migrant town

'Welcoming is in our roots': a mural in Riace. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

Lucano made a name for himself over the past two decades for welcoming migrants to his village of Riace, population 1,800, to counter a gradual decline of inhabitants and workers. The so-called “Riace model” won international acclaim as one of Italy's most successful integration projects.

After Lucano's arrest, he was ordered into house detention away from Riace. The Court of Cassation overturned the ban last week after an appeal by his lawyers.

Its ruling does not affect any of the charges against Lucano, however, only the conditions of his detention.

READ ALSO: Protesters rally round 'rebel' Italian mayor

Since last June Italy has been governed by a populist coalition dominated by the nationalist League led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who also holds the interior ministry portfolio and has taken a hard line against migrants.

Lucano and his supporters allege that the charges against him are politically motivated. 

“I'm speechless,” he commented after Thursday's decision. “I'm being sent to court even for the charges that the Court of Cassation dismissed. Evidently it's one thing in Rome and another in Locri. 

“But I'm going forward with courage. The truth will come to light on its own.”

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