Ed: At the Appeal Court hearing on 11 October Domenico Lucano was acquitted of all but one charge. This is a victory for justice.
On 20 September at the Court of Appeal in Reggio di Calabria, Giuliano Pisapia MEP and Andrea Daqua made the case for the acquittal of Domenico Lucano on charges relating to the administration of the Riace project.
Riace came to world attention when Lucano, then mayor of Riace, and his team implemented a considered and effective plan to benefit both the depopulated town and the refugees who were beginning to land on the nearby coast. To Lucano it was simple: the town had empty housing and struggling businesses, while the refugees were in need of homes and work. Emigre owners gave permission for their properties to be rented and dying local skills were passed on to the newcomers. The presence in the town of these new inhabitants, some with young families, made school, medical facilities, small businesses and provision of utilities viable again. Riace’s treatment of the arrival of the migrants not as a problem but as an opportunity was widely recognised and emulated in other parts of Italy and further afield.
The respect and practical assistance afforded to the migrants in Riace stands in stark contrast with the attitude to the majority of refugees who landed in Italy, often housed in barracks away from towns and with little or no access to training or opportunities. In even starker contrast is the fate of many who fell into the wrong hands, becoming victims of slavery or resorting to prostitution, as detailed in this shocking 2019 Guardian article.
With the drift to populism in Italy in recent years, Riace’s success has become a thorn in the flesh for a government intent on representing refugees as a threat, a scapegoat to be blamed for all of the country’s ills. The current administration seems to feel threatened by the very existence of such humanitarian projects, which demonstrate with so much clarity that there is another way, a way that involves, not invective, slurs and fear-mongering, but co-operation, respect and shared goals: a way that works.
So in 2018 an investigation into the administration of the Riace Project was launched, resulting in a trial regarded by many as political. This charged Lucano and his team with fraud, embezzlement, abuse of office and assisting illegal immigration. It resulted in a scarcely credible sentence of 13 years and two months for Lucano and lesser sentences for his associates.
During last month’s appeal, MEP Pisapia referenced a letter written by Lucano to the judges admitting that he may have made mistakes, but that he had always worked to help the more vulnerable. On the question of supposed motives – financial or political gain – firstly it was clear from a reading of all the court documents that Lucano had no money in his account and secondly he had refused to put himself forward for a virtually guaranteed seat in the European Parliament. The original sentence had disregarded the values that inspired all his public actions as well as the idealism of his mission.
Pisapia stated that a person acting for the good of others can certainly make mistakes, but that these can be rectified and don’t negate the positive aim of the action. He stressed that as things stand in Italy, the judgement they had to make would be of great moment, because similar projects could solve so many of the nation’s current problems. He finished by saying justice and politics don’t mix.
Daqua highlighted the weaknesses and contradictions of the prosecution’s case, starting with two contrasting reports from the prefecture, the first very negative, the second expressing a positive opinion of the project.
A phone tap used in evidence against Lucano had had a phrase added that didn’t exist in the recording or in the transcription made by the tribunal’s own expert. This concerned the olive press that provided an important source of employment. Discussing the outlay Lucano had said: “It’s for the refugees”. The phrase added was: “You must say to them …”, transforming an innocent remark into an apparent attempt to deceive. Thus a phone tap presented as proof of Lucano distorting reality is itself a distortion of the truth. This phone tap played a key role in the original sentencing. The olive press was at the heart of the accusation of misuse of funds, and yet there was no proof that there was any misuse.
Other insertions and mistakes in transcription were made. According to Daqua, facts had been distorted and documentation produced by the defence ignored, demonstrating a serious lack of impartiality, and a desire simply to prove the case for the prosecution rather than to establish what really happened. He pointed out that the judges now had an opportunity to correct a very grave miscarriage of justice.
Both Pisapia and Daqua asked for a complete acquittal.
The next date in this case is 11 October,when the appeal judges will deliberate on the sentence.
Ed: Thanks are due to Giovanna Procacci who has reported in exhaustive detail on the trial and the appeal. The information in this article relating directly to the appeal is all taken from her Pressenza report. A translation of Procacci’s report into English by Colin Gordon appeared recently in North East Bylines.
Ed: Update 14 October 2023: A further article on this epic victory of justice appeared today in our sister newspaper, North East Bylines.