An Italian judge in Sicily has dismissed a case against right-wing leader Matteo Salvini for refusing to let migrants and refugees disembark from a coastguard ship in 2019, saying no crime had been committed.
The case centred on an incident in July 2019, when Salvini, then Italy’s interior minister, blocked more than 100 people aboard the Gregoretti for six days as he waited for European allies to agree to resettle them.
Some had accused Salvini of kidnapping the refugees.
But prosecutors in Catania had asked the judge not to send Salvini to trial, saying his decision did not violate international treaties and was not to be considered kidnapping.
The Catania case is similar to a separate investigation in the Sicilian capital of Palermo over migrants and refugees who were kept aboard another boat a month after the Gregoretti incident.
However, in a contrasting decision, a judge in Palermo last month ordered that Salvini should stand trial over those allegations. He could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
“If there was no kidnapping in Catania, then I do not see why there should be kidnapping in Palermo,” Salvini said after Friday’s ruling.
“It is a beautiful day, not only for me and my family, but for all Italians who want a controlled, regulated and positive immigration, and not thousands of arrivals that in this post-COVID summer we cannot permit.”
The trial in Palermo will begin on September 15. A definitive conviction could bar him from government office.
Italy this month is again seeing high numbers of arrivals on its southernmost island of Lampedusa. More than 2,100 people arrived over the weekend alone.
During his 14 months as interior minister, Salvini stopped several boats from docking in Italy in an effort to halt migrants and refugees entering the country, and regularly accused the charities that operated them of effectively people smuggling.
He has built much of his political profile on an anti-immigration campaign.
In the summer of 2019, when his party was riding high in the polls, Salvini withdrew the League from Italy’s then coalition government in a failed bid to trigger an election.
The League is now part of Mario Draghi’s two-month-old national unity government.
Despite having lost some voter support since its failed 2019 move, the party remains the most popular in Italy, according to most opinion polls.