Nicholas Farrell

Matteo Salvini is lucky to be the enemy of the Italian justice system

Matteo Salvini is lucky to be the enemy of the Italian justice system
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As Machiavelli noted: in order to prevail, a successful prince needs Fortuna as well as Virtù. Matteo Salvini, who has replaced Silvio Berlusconi as Italy’s dominant politician, has got them both.

In any normal country, it would surely be unthinkable that the deputy leader of a new government elected specifically to stop refugees being ferried across the Mediterranean from North Africa to his country should face trial for actually doing so.

But as the Italians themselves are the first to admit: ‘Italy is not un Paese normale (a normal country)’. Its judicial system, for example – they know from bitter experience – is incompetent, arbitrary and politicised, and widely regarded not just as the enemy of the people but of justice itself.

And so, little more than two months after Salvini and his party – the radical right Lega – formed a coalition government with the alt-left Five Star Movement – prosecuting magistrates in Agrigento, Sicily, have placed him under formal investigation for kidnapping migrants (maximum sentence: 30 years in jail).

This ought to be very bad news for Italy’s new Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister and yet, this being Italy, it is in fact – thanks to the Goddess Fortuna – a stroke of great luck, as it has made him even more popular than he already was.

For in Italy it is more often than not a badge of honour to be hounded by an Italian investigating magistrate.

First, Salvini refused to allow NGO vessels which pick up migrants just off the Libyan coast and ferry them 300 miles as the crow flies, up past Tunisia and Malta, to dock in ports in Sicily and southern Italy.

Since 2013, about 700,000 migrants have arrived by sea in Italy nearly all from Libya – mostly young single men from sub-Saharan Africa who even according to the ultra PC United Nations are not refugees. And remember: migrants pay about €1,500 for a place on the rubber boats that set off to rendezvous with the NGO vessels just off the Libyan coast, so are not even poor.

Yet once in Italy, and therefore the EU, and even though only one in ten is ever granted refugee status, very few are ever expelled (in 2017, just 6,000 odd were put on planes from Italy back to where they came from).

In recent years, NGO vessels have brought to Italy most of these migrants. But this summer, Salvini stopped this NGO trade in fake refugees dead. For the first time in many years there are now no NGO vessels operating off the Libyan coast.

As he crowed in front of an ecstatic audience of Lega supporters in Bergamo at the weekend: ‘From the 1st of June to the 1st of September last year 40,000 migrants were ferried to Italy, this year in the same period, only 4,000.’

The world’s armchair virtue-signallers are determined not to let him get away with it and so this summer have gone into overdrive to accuse him of murder in the Mediterranean.

In particular, international aid agencies publish monthly migrant death reports which inevitably make global front page headlines.

The risk of death to migrants has increased dramatically – these reports warn – from (roughly) 1 in 40 last year to 1 in 20 this year – thanks to Salvini and his awful populists.

Naturally, what these reports fail to point out is that migrant deaths at sea this year are half (roughly) those last year: 3,139 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in 2017 which is more than double those who have died so far this year.

With the wind in his sails, Salvini then decided to stop migrants being brought to Italy by the naval and coastguard vessels involved in the EU’s Operation Sophia.

The stated mission of Operation Sophia, launched in 2015, is to eradicate people smugglers not to rescue migrants. But as a 2017 House of Lords report found, the mission is a ‘failure’ as it does not ‘deter the flow of migrants (…) or impede the business of people smuggling’ and instead merely acts as ‘a magnate’ for migrants to put to sea.

Operation Sofia vessels thus spend most of their time rescuing and ferrying migrants to Italy as well – although they operate further off the Libyan coast than the NGOs.

So, in late August, Salvini refused to allow the Diciotti – an Italian coastguard vessel – to disembark 177 migrants picked up in Malta’s designated Search and Rescue Zone when it docked in Catania. Malta, he repeated, refuses to take any migrants from Libya despite being nearer – as do, despite all their verbal virtue-signalling, all other EU countries – so why, he asked, should Italy continue to take the lot?

He would not let the migrants off the Diciotti – he said – until the EU persuaded other member states to share out the migrants on board.

One or two EU countries did then agree to take a handful each, though by no means all, and after a week-long stand-off, he relented and allowed the migrants to disembark.

Prosecuting magistrates in Agrigento then put him under formal investigation for a string of crimes including kidnapping.

But 61 per cent of Italians – according to a major opinion poll by SWG published last Sunday – disapprove of this criminal investigation.

As Enzo Risso, director of SWG, told the Rome daily Il Messaggero: ‘Italians are angry at this interference of the Magistratura in what they consider, rightly or wrongly, to be a purely political question.’

Salvini reacted by saying that he would renounce his right as a Senator to seek immunity from prosecution by a vote in the Senate and very much looked forward to his trial.

Already, at least 50 of the migrants disembarked from the Diciotti have absconded from the welcome centres on the Italian mainland where they were taken, the Interior Ministry announced on Thursday. They did so because they know full well that they have absolutely no chance of being accepted as refugees.

The Lega which shot from only 4 per cent of the vote in the 2013 general election, before Salvini became its leader, to 17 per cent in the subsequent general election in March this year (compared to Five Star’s 32 per cent) swiftly overtook its coalition partner in subsequent polls.

It has become Italy’s most popular party by a long way and is now on 32 per cent – according to the latest weekly poll by Tg La7 broadcast on Monday – well ahead of Five Star which has slumped to 28 per cent.

And so it was, on Thursday, that the Goddess Fortuna decided to smile yet again on Salvini.

A court in Genoa ordered the Lega to pay back €49 million in electoral expenses for 2008-10 – years before Salvini became leader – which it had earlier ruled were fraudulently received. The Lega has only €5 million in its bank account and will be forced into bankruptcy.

But here’s the funny thing: far from being the kiss of death, this latest example of what many Italians see as the relentless corruption of the political process by Italy’s judiciary is just another huge stroke of luck.

That the court required 10 years to reach its verdict and that it chose to pronounce it this week speaks volumes.

Not even the Lega’s coalition ally – Five Star – whose raison d’être is to stamp out the endemic corruption that afflicts Italy’s institutions and the obscenely bloated pay of those who work in them raised more than an eye-brow. Salvini will simply change the name of his party and buona notte!

The Italians, a sado-masichistic people, adore martyrs. But Salvini – assailed by the slings and arrows of Italy’s outrageous judges – is a martyr who will not die because they do not want him to die. Thanks to his Virtù and to his friend – the Goddess Fortuna.