Interior minister Matteo Salvini isn't the only one back in the spotlight. So what's going on—and is it true that journalists are being intimidated?by / July 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
Italian minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, is once again under the spotlight—not only for his opinions regarding immigration but now also for his diatribe against Roberto Saviano, author of the best-selling book Gomorrah.
Saviano has been under police protection for more than eleven years after his investigative work on the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, triggered death threats.
The ‘police protection’ question became a political matter in August 2017, when Salvini responded to Saviano’s harsh critiques regarding the leader’s anti-immigration rhetoric.
Salvini tweeted that “If we end up governing … we’ll remove his useless police protection.”
The matter resurfaced on June 21, when the now Interior minister was asked if he would go ahead and remove Saviano’s protection.
“The competent institutions will evaluate if he is in any danger,” Salvini replied. “I think he spends a lot of time abroad. It’s fair to evaluate how Italian money is spent.”
In fact, the minister of Interior is not normally involved with giving or revoking police protection.
According to Carmen Leone, associated professor of administrative law at University of Insubria, the task of giving or revoking police protection is carried out by Ucis, a department within Italy’s Department of Public Safety.
On July 3, Mr. Salvini filed an official complaint against Saviano because the writer, in a video posted on Facebook on June 21, called him “ministro della Malavita” (“crime minister”).
This expression—first used in 1910 by politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, who supposedly facilitated election fraud—refers to episodes allegedly linking the League to the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, and to a €49 million monetary fraud.
The not-so-subtle threat to remove Saviano’s police protection could be seen as part of a wider attempt to silence dissent and voices particularly critical of the minister and his party.
Not long before, on June 13, three journalists were held in a police station and questioned for three hours by the authorities—according to a request of Genoa’s Public Prosecutor office—regarding their investigations on the League’s money flow.
The incident was highly criticised by FNSI, Italian journalists’ trade union as it was considered a “muscular choice” in an attempt to “muzzle freedom of information and bridle freedom of press.”
If there is an effort to dissuade journalists, one could easily guess at a motive. In 2012, former treasurer Francesco Belsito was accused of fraud, of illicitly funding political parties and of money laundering, with former leader Umberto Bossi was accused of fraud and embezzlement.
Genoa’s Public Prosecutor office specifically looked into the “disappearance” of 49 million euros which authorities claim had been embezzled from the state, laundered and hidden in investments in Luxemburg.
On July 3, the “Corte di Cassazione,” the highest judicial institution in Italy, ruled in favour of seizing all of the League’s assets amounting to €49 million.
Italian newspapers reported the alleged involvement of senior party members, including former treasurer Francesco Belsito and former leader Umberto Bossi.
The plot thickens?
While Mr. Salvini said that he did not have anything to do with such money, and that the investigation was based on nothing, journalists from centre-left weekly magazine L’Espresso later claimed to have proof that both he and another former leader, Roberto Maroni, had cashed and knowingly used the money that Bossi embezzled.
After the July 3 ruling, Salvini re-iterated his claim he was not involved and attacked the judiciary, calling the judgement “political.”
This is not, however, the only set of allegations in play. Recently, La Repubblica reported what they believe to be several suspicious links between the ‘Ndrangheta and the League.
Reporters detailed how on March 17, several people attended a meeting in Rosarno—a city almost completely controlled by ‘Ndrangheta families—to celebrate Salvini’s senate election in Calabria.
Amongst them there were Rosarno’s former mayor Giacomo Saccomanno, who is reportedly tied through family links to the Pesce family, who exert control over the Gioia Tauro—a territory around 40 minutes away from the regional hub of Reggio Calabria.
What’s more, Domenico Furgiuele, the League’s regional secretary in Calabria and now first member of Parliament ever to be elected in the region, is the son-in-law of a mine owner, Salvatore Mazzei, currently in jail for aggravated extortion (his assets have been seized by the Antimafia Commission).
The La Repubblica investigation detailed apparent further links between the League and ‘Ndrangheta in Lombardy, one of the historical League regions.
Marta Prato, an activist and close friend of party members, is a friend of Umberto Cristello—a member of the Cristello family, suspected of controlling the trafficking of cocaine in Brianza, an industrial area north of Milan. (Prato herself has stated that there are “transversal friendships” that tie public officials in the province to the Cristello clan.)
Silvini denies the associations. But whether this is only a series of unfortunate coincidences or there is an active attempt to silence dissent, one thing is certain: it does not look good for the new government to have two allegations of press intimidation in such a short space of time.