ROME – A former Italian mayor who won worldwide plaudits for his innovative approach in integrating migrants was sentenced to 13 years and two months of jail on Thursday for irregularities in managing the asylum seekers in his town, his lawyers said.
Domenico Lucano, 63, was mayor of Riace, a medieval hilltop village of around 1,900 residents in Italy’s southern Calabria region, from 2004 to 2018. He was listed by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s top 50 leaders in 2016.
“I have spent my life against mafia clans, I have sided with the last ones, the refugees who arrived … today it all ends for me,” Lucano told reporters outside the tribunal in the Calabrian city of Locri.
Italian media reported he was facing charges including embezzlement, abuse of office and abetting illegal immigration to bypass asylum rules. It was not immediately clear which crimes he was convicted for.
At the end of his term, more than 300 Riace inhabitants were migrants.
“I expected a full acquittal, I did not imagine anything like this”, Lucano said.
The shock sentence was almost twice as long as what the prosecutors investigating him had requested, local media said.
In a statement, his lawyers Giuliano Pisapia and Andrea Daqua called the sentence an “absurd” one that “flies against all evidence”. They said they would appeal as soon as the reasons for the sentence were published.
In Italy, a defendant has the right to two appeals before a sentence is imposed.
The ruling angered charities and left-wing politicians, but pleased right-wing parties ahead of local elections scheduled for this weekend in Calabria, where Lucano is standing for the regional council.
“The left is running candidates sentenced to 13 years in prison,” League leader Matteo Salvini, a fierce opponent of Lucano’s migrant projects, wrote in a statement.