Senate panel votes against Salvini trial

Majority in favour of keeping minister's immunity

(ANSA) - Rome, February 19 - The Senate's immunity panel on Tuesday voted against granting a request from criminal prosecutors to proceed with charges against Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini over the Diciotti case. Magistrates in the Sicilian city of Catania requested authorization from parliament to proceed against the leader of the anti-migrant League for alleged kidnapping over migrants held on board the Diciotti coast guard ship in a standoff with the EU last August.
    Salvini said the case should not be allowed to proceed as he was doing his job as minister.
    On Monday members of the 5-Star Movement (M5S), the League's coalition partners, voted for the group's lawmakers to vote against lifting Salvini's parliamentary immunity. It went the same way on the Senate panel on Tuesday, with 16 backing the line proposed by panel chair Maurizio Gasparri, while six were against. Some M5S supporters expressed unease about backing immunity for Salvini, saying the movement has traditionally been against MPs getting different treatment in such cases.
    Senators from the centre-left opposition Democratic Party (PD) shouted "shame, honesty" at the M5S Senators after the vote, referring to the movement's rallying cry when it emerged onto the political scene.
    The immunity panel's vote does not mean the final say over the case.
    There will now have to be a vote in the floor of the upper house.
    But with the M5S Senators having pledged to follow the lead of their members' online vote, it appears to be a foregone conclusion in favour of Salvini.
    The movement had appeared dangerously split on whether to vote for or against allowing the kidnapping charges against Salvini to proceed.
    But Salvini said: "I can guarantee that the government will not collapse".
    "I don't fear the court of the people".
    Salvini also said that "we're all in the same boat" referring to Premier Gisueppe Conte, fellow Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio, the M5S leader, and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, also of the M5S, who wrote in statements to the panel that the interior minister was implementing the policy of the whole government.
    Di Maio also said the government would go ahead no matter what the result of the vote.
    "The government will go on. I have made a commitment to the Italian people and I intend to carry it out," he said.
    Salvini said he is "not asking for favours or help from anyone" in the vote.
    "If, to defend the borders of my country, the safety of Italians, to defend the national interest, it brings me and will bring me other charges and other investigations, I'm very ready to face them," Salvini said.
    Salvini has also threatened to take legal action if reports of a possible deal within the government over the Turin-Lyon TAV high-speed rail line and the Diciotti cases continue.
    "I'll sue the next person who talks about that," League leader Salvini said during a visit to the central city of Terni last week.
    Salvini says the project should go ahead but the M5S are opposed to it.
    Italy's centre-left and centre-right opposition parties, meanwhile, have accused the M5S Senators of ducking their responsibilities by delegating their decision to the party base.