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Italy’s premier testifies in Salvini migrant case

ROME

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte testified Thursday in a judicial case against League party leader Matteo Salvini, who is accused of illegally detaining migrants at sea two years ago while he was interior minister.

Amid a political crisis that will determine his political future, Conte appeared before a judge who has to decide whether Salvini, who is now the main leader of the center-right opposition, should face trial.

Salvini is accused of abusing his powers as then-interior minister when he blocked more than 100 migrants from disembarking from the Italian coastguard boat Gregoretti in July 2019.

At the time, Salvini was a minister of the government coalition led by Conte, which included the populist Five Star Movement.

He has repeatedly said that the decision to hold the migrants was not his alone but was taken by the whole government.

The judge, Nunzio Sarpietro, summarized Conte’s testimony on Thursday, saying the premier confirmed the migration policies were shared by the whole government. But Conte added that decisions on disembarking migrants were part of Salvini’s responsibilities.

Salvini’s lawyer, Giulia Bongiorno, reiterated that “Salvini acted following policies that were shared by Conte,” adding that he acted for the common good.

The migrants, mainly from Sudan and Central and West Africa, had been rescued in the Mediterranean in two separate operations in July 2019 after five days at sea.

They were transferred to the Gregoretti and held there for several days in the summer sun despite a scabies outbreak onboard.

Fifteen unaccompanied minors were allowed off on July 29 and the remaining 116 migrants were disembarked only on July 31 after Salvini announced a deal brokered with other EU countries to redistribute them.

The League party leader faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who was joint deputy prime minister with Salvini at the time, has been called to testify on Feb. 19.

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