The mayor of Riace, a southern Italian town known for its migrant-friendly policies, was put under house arrest on Tuesday for allegedly facilitating illegal immigration.
Domenico Lucano was arrested after an investigation led by the public prosecutor of the southern town of Locri found that he was allegedly involved in organising sham marriages to allow migrants girls to stay in Italy, said Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Police say they intercepted a conversation in which the mayor was talking about the case of a Nigerian girl who needed to be married off to an Italian citizen after her residence permit was denied.
Lucano was also accused of sidestepping local government procedure in the assignment of the town’s trash-collection service, according to La Repubblica. The charge could be connected to Riace's migrant programme as the two companies who run the refuse collection were cooperatives created "to provide work for the people of Riace and migrants".
The mayor's administration became known for its commitment to welcoming and integrating migrants and refugees into the local community.
Additional charges of embezzlement, fraud against the state and bribery have been dropped, said the newspaper.
The mayor’s partner Tesfahun Lemlem was also accused of some of the charges and banned from living in the area.
Mixed political reactions to Lucano’s arrest
Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini tweeted on Tuesday "Wow, who knows what Saviano and all the do-gooding people who want to fill Italy with immigrants are going to say now" after learning about Lucano's arrest,
While Cécile Kyenge, Italy's former integration minister and now an MEP showed more consternation at the mayor's arrest.
"The judge of the Court of Locri states that "the widespread malpractice that emerged during the course of the investigation has not resulted in any of the hypothesised criminal assumptions. Ergo, no crimes have emerged. So what is the fault of #MimmoLucano? Maybe solidarity and humanity?"
The mayor's office has not yet issued a statement.
The Riace Model
Riace has become a symbol of migrant integration. In recent years, the mayor introduced a scheme to encourage migrants to move to the small town, which many former residents left in search of better opportunities.
Migrants are housed in abandoned houses rent-free and government funds received by the municipality are put into cooperatives that give migrants job training and a small salary.
Because of his work with migrants, Lucano was featured as one of the world's 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine in 2016.