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POLITICS

Italy’s Senate has voted to send Salvini to trial. What happens now?

The Italian Senate has stripped League party leader Matteo Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, opening the way for a potentially career-derailing trial over alleged abuse of power and illegally detaining migrant while he was a government minister.

Italy's Senate has voted to send Salvini to trial. What happens now?
Matteo Salvini at the Senate hearing on removing his parliamentary immunity on February 12. Photo: AFP

The charges could see Salvini, a senator, serve up to 15 years in jail. 

Here's a look at what happens next.

Will he now face trial?

Salvini, 46, is not heading straight for the docks. It was a court in Catania in Sicily that asked the Senate to green-light a trial against him for using his power as interior minister to block over 110 rescued migrants at sea for days.

In doing so, the court overruled the Catania prosecutor in charge of the initial investigation, who had requested the case be dropped. The Senate will now send the dossier back to that prosecutor's office, obliging it to go forward with the case.

The prosecutor is expected to appeal once more for the case to be shelved, and a judge will have the final say. Should the official go-ahead be given, Salvini will be tried by a Catania court in the first instance. 

In Italy, most cases then go to appeal, before winding up at Italy's highest court in Rome for a definitive verdict.

Salvini at the February 12 Senate hearing on removing his parliamentary immunity. Photo: AFP

Is his career at stake?

Salvini is currently in opposition, but is determined to become prime minister and his anti-immigrant party is currently expected to do very well at the next elections. A conviction, however, could throw a serious spanner in the works.

Under Italian law, members of parliament ordered to serve a prison sentence of two or more years are ousted from the halls of power and unable to run in elections for up to eight years.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy's League

The law is less clear on what happens after a conviction in the first instance, before all appeals have been exhausted.

In theory, the Senate could suspend Salvini from the upper house for 18 months, but it would be an unprecedented move.

Is he really facing prison?

Overcrowding in Italian jails means those given sentences of fewer than two years are usually placed under house arrest or ordered to serve community service instead.

The Italian justice system is also notoriously slow, with the average criminal trial — appeals included — lasting some four years and four months, according to media reports.

Those unlucky enough to be tried in the south of the country sometimes see it drag on for over six years.

READ ALSO: Anger over plans for Italy's Salvini to speak at events in the UK

Will his 'martyr strategy' work?

“It's already clear (Salvini) intends to use the accusations against him by presenting himself a victim of 'political justice',” writes Massimo Franco, the editor of the Corriere della Sera, Italy's biggest-selling daily.

La Stampa daily agrees, saying Salvini has gone with “the martyr strategy”.

But will that boost his popularity further?

While he may see some short-term gain, political analysts warn that in the long term Italians could tire of it — as they did with Salvini's right-wing ally, ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who spent years vociferously accusing Italy's judges of persecuting him at various trials.

Salvini (R) with ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2018. Photo: AFP

What else can we expect?

Salvini has complained about evenings spent doing defence prep, but much more strategy-plotting by candlelight awaits.

A special Senate committee is set to rule February 27 on another court request to proceed against him in a separate migrant case, where he is once again accused of illegal detention and abuse of power.

He is also being sued for defamation by the German captain of a charity migrant rescue vessel, and a decision is expected soon on whether that too will go to trial.

His League party has legal troubles of its own. It has been ordered to pay back some 49 million euros it owes the state, but which it claims not to have. Prosecutors are looking at whether funds have been moved and hidden abroad.

Investigators are also probing reports the party sought illicit funds from Russia.

“Salvini's judicial weather forecast looks bad,” the Corriere della Sera said.  

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POLITICS

Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Meloni’s trip – her second to a North African country this week – is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.

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