The Belgian MEP was sued by Matteo Salvini for defamation after he tweeted that he hoped the Lega leader would be found guilty of “illegally detain migrants in the sea”.
Mr Salvini faced a case in Sicily over his decision to deny illegal migrants who had reached Italian shores while he was the Interior Minister, disembark from the Coast Guard vessel Gregoretti.
As the case began in Catania, Mr Verhofstadt tweeted: “Matteo Salvini is accused of illegally detaining migrants at sea after being rescued by Gregoretti. Bravo Italy! Justice must be done. Let’s hope the same happens also for his massive corruption with Russian oil bribes!”.
The tweet sparked the fury of the Italian politician who promptly sued the MEP for defamation.
But Mr Verhofstadt invoked parliamentary immunity, receiving the backing of his colleagues in the European Parliament today.
572 MEPs voted in favour of his request to be granted privileges and immunities against the case – 108 MEPs voted against.
Commenting on Mr Verhofstadt’s move, Italian MEP Alessandra Basso accused the Belgian politician of “cowardly” running away from his responsibilities.
The Lega MEP blasted: “Guy Verhofstadt slanders Matteo Salvini with insults and falsehoods, but then he doesn’t even have the courage to answer for his own words, it’s shameful.
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“As for the left in Italy, also in Europe two weights and two measures are valid: in a shameful tweet, Verhofstadt called for a trial against Salvini in the Gregoretti case and launched unfounded and defamatory accusations.
“Political controversy is one thing, but defamations and completely unfounded, unacceptable accusations are another.
“While Matteo Salvini faced the Gregoretti trial with his head held high, with a full acquittal, Guy Verhofstadt, faced with a criminal case opened by the Trento Public Prosecutor’s Office on his allegations, runs away and invokes parliamentary immunity.
“Here is yet another case of double standards, here is the difference between those who, like Salvini, have the courage of their actions and those who, cowardly, do not take responsibility for their statements.”
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The criminal trial for the Gregoretti case against Matteo Salvini ended in May, in the Bicocca court in Catania where the investigating judge Nunzio Sarpietro read his decision.
He communicated to the parties that, in his opinion, there were no elements to send the former Interior Minister before a court to answer for the crimes of kidnapping and abuse of office for keeping 164 migrants blocked at sea after being rescued.
The Italian MP was waiting for EU member states to formalise their willingness to welcome part of the migrants.