ROME – A court in southern Italy on Thursday convicted the former mayor of a small town known as the “Welcome City” for aiding and abetting illegal immigration and sentenced him to 13 years and two months in prison.
Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Lucano was also convicted of fraud, embezzlement, criminal association and abuse of office by the court in Calabria, the region that forms the “toe” of the Italian peninsula.
Lucano has denied wrongdoing.
“I am tainted for life for injustices that I have not committed,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying. He put a hand on his forehead in disbelief as he listened to the verdict and the verdict that was pronounced in court after three days of deliberations.
Prosecutors alleged that Lucano facilitated marriages of convenience between Italian men in the city of Riace and foreign women in order to obtain Italian residence permits for the women. They also alleged he misused state funds earmarked for migrant aid, including € 5 million that prosecutors claimed ended up in private pockets and were not used to help migrants.
His lawyers said they will appeal both the conviction and the verdict, which was around five years longer than the prosecution requested.
One of his lawyers, Giuliano Pisapia, a former left-wing mayor of Milan, had dismissed the political motivation behind the trial. Still, he said, “there was undoubtedly hostility against Lucano.”
Lucano remains out of prison until the last appeals are released.
Humanitarian groups rescuing migrants from unseaworthy human traffickers in the Mediterranean were outraged by the court’s verdict.
“The former mayor of Riace gave his city life and future through welcome and solidarity,” tweeted Sea Watch Italy. ‘We stand by Mimmo Lucano and the one who practices solidarity every day.
Many migrants in Riace, a town with around 1,700 inhabitants, were given urban jobs, such as street cleaners, while Lucano was mayor.
Another humanitarian group, Mediterranea Saving Humans, condemned the verdict as “shameful”. In a statement she described the outcome of the process as “the most serious repressive attack on the culture and practice of solidarity in our country”.
The charity added, “Anyone who is poor or a migrant must endure all forms of violence, and whoever helps them is a criminal.”
Riace is famous for the discovery of two ancient Greek statues in 1972 on the seabed off the nearby coast. The statues are known as Riace bronzes.