Pro-refugee Italian mayor, Lucano, receives prison sentence

Domenico Lucano

Yesterday Domenico (Mimmo) Lucano, the former mayor of the town of Riace in Calabria, Italy, was sentenced to a jail term of 13 years 2 months. He was also ordered to repay 500,000 euros to the Italian state and EU.

Mimmo Lucano has been perhaps the world’s most admired contemporary pioneer in the creation of welcome systems for asylum seekers and other refugees. His achievements have been internationally praised, and have been recognised in a public tribute by the Pope.

His ‘crime’ has been to use public funds for refugee reception to create sustainable integrated settlement opportunities for refugees in a depopulated European region.

The allegations

Local prosecutors alleged in this trial that Lucano and others had operated a criminal conspiracy to fraudulently divert public funds for their private benefit. Having failed to demonstrate criminal intention or personal profit with regard to any conduct by the accused, prosecutors then alleged a criminal plot to secure political and electoral benefit by creating a client population which would owe its existence to the mayor.

The local judges are reported to have imposed on Lucano the maximum sentence for every crime alleged by the prosecution, in his case over five years in excess of the sentence demanded by the prosecution, which many observers had already judged astonishingly severe. Severe prison and monetary penalties have also been imposed on numerous other former colleagues and supporters of Lucano.

On Sunday regional elections take place in Italy in which Lucano is, and has stated that he will remain, a candidate.

The secretary-general of the Democrat party, Enrico Letta, today stated that he was “astonished” by the severity of the sentences.

Statement of support for Lucano

RAI New reported that today 25 Italian MEPs, senators and deputies today signed a statement of support for Lucano: Pietro Bartolo, Laura Boldrini, Loredana De Petris, Yana Ehm, Elena Fattori, Nicola Fratoianni, Chiara Gribaudo, Francesco Laforgia, Virginia La Mura, Pierfrancesco Majorino, Gennaro Migliore, Rossella Muroni, Paola Nugnes, Matteo Orfini, Erasmo Palazzotto, Giuditta Pini, Fausto Raciti, Sandro Ruotolo, Doriana Sarli, Massimiliano Smeriglio, Simona Suriano, Giorgio Trizzino, Massimo Ungaro, Michele Usuelli, Francesco Verducci.

The trial judges now have 90 days to publish the justification of their verdicts and sentences, after which the accused have the right to appeal to the Cassation and Supreme Courts. It has been noted that major parts of the Locri court’s allegations have already been struck down by higher courts. Nevertheless, the sentence appears to amount to an attempt to crush a historic movement in Italy for a creative and generous response to the refugee crisis – to the immediate advantage of opposed political forces.

Unsubstantiated allegations

Observers of the Locri trial over the past two years have often commented on the exiguous, speculative or simply unsubstantiated nature of the prosecution’s allegations. One key prosecution witness broke down and retracted his allegations under cross-examination. The prosecution appears to have sought during the trial to manipulate public opinion by selective leaking of wire-tap evidence to local right-wing media. Extreme and exaggerated armed court security measures have appeared designed to put the trial on the same anti-terror footing as major trials of the region’s ‘Ndrangheta gang bosses.

This week, public indignation and consternation are mounting in Italy, with clearly stated concerns by senior political figures that the public credibility of judges is at risk. Yesterday evening a former Prime Minister described the sentences as “objectively severe”.

After the sentencing Lucano said:

“I have no words, I didn’t expect it.

“I spent my life chasing ideals, I fought against the mafia; I sided with the last ones, the refugees. And I don’t even have the money to pay the lawyers … today it all ends for me. There is no justice.”

He will appeal the sentence.

Protests against the verdicts and sentences are taking place on Friday afternoon (1 October) at 4pm  in Riace and several cities:  Milan, Florence, Bergamo, Turin and elsewhere. For latest news and coverage  see .

Read more by Colin Gordon

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