By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – A special tribunal has recommended that far-right League leader Matteo Salvini should stand trial for holding scores of people on board a charity ship last August, in one of his last migrant standoffs as interior minister.
The court’s move adds to the mounting legal difficulties of Salvini, who took his party out of government in August in a failed bid to trigger an early election that opinion polls suggested he would win.
In a court document seen by Reuters, magistrates in the Sicilian city of Palermo asked parliament for authorization to continue an investigation into the League leader on suspicion of kidnapping 107 migrants on the Spanish charity boat Open Arms.
The migrants remained stranded at sea until prosecutors ordered the seizure of the ship and the evacuation of the people on board.
“(Salvini) denied, without a proper reason, the (ship’s)request for a place of safety sent to his office… knowingly causing an illegitimate deprivation of migrants’ personal liberty,” the court document reads.
It also accuses him of failing to carry out his legal duty as a minister to allow the migrants to disembark.
The court’s request was sent to parliament on Jan. 31 but only made public on Tuesday.
During his 14 months as interior minister, Salvini curbed migrant arrivals and hampered the activities of rescue ships, threatening the charities operating them with fines and trying to force other European states to take the migrants in.
“They are trying to stop me and frighten you: I promise you that I will not give up and I will never give up!,” Salvini said after the court’s request on Tuesday.
In an almost identical case due to come before parliament this month, the senate is expected to authorize magistrates in the Sicilian city of Catania to put Salvini on trial on another migrant kidnapping charge.
His far-right movement is also facing two separate financial probes for possible money laundering and for international corruption over suspicions that it tried to obtain millions of euros via a secret Russian oil deal.
The League remains easily Italy’s largest party with more than 30% of votes, latest polls say, but a defeat in a key regional election last January frustrated Salvini’s latest effort to bring down the government and return to power.
(Editing by Gavin Jones and Gareth Jones)