ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini clashed with one of the country’s most respected judges on Tuesday after sending a congratulatory tweet for the arrest of “15 Nigerian mobsters” before the operation was complete.
Salvini sent a tweet at about 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) lauding the police dragnet in the northern city of Turin. That prompted the city’s chief prosecutor, Armando Spataro, to issue a statement admonishing the minister for speaking out of turn.
The news was given “while the operation was (and still is) underway, risking to undermine it,” said Spataro, who has traded barbs with Salvini before. “One should hope that, in future, the interior minister will avoid similar communications.”
Spataro also said Salvini got the number of arrests wrong and that only some of the suspects were sought on mafia charges.
Salvini, who takes a tough stance on immigration, suggested in reply that it might be time for the 69-year-old Spataro to retire and wished him “a serene future as a pensioner”.
“No one should be free to say that the interior minister put a police operation at risk because he congratulated them for a brilliant operation,” Salvini said later in a Facebook live video stream, adding that a phone call could have cleared up the issue.
Salvini has regularly highlighted crimes committed by foreigners since taking office in June.
A savvy use of social media, combined with a nationalist “Italians first” message, has made Salvini’s right-wing League party, one of the two in the ruling coalition, the most popular in Italy.
Spataro is known for his investigations into international terrorism, and in 2003 he spearheaded a delicate investigation into the “extraordinary rendition” to Egypt of a Milan imam, Abu Omar, by U.S. and Italian secret services.
In July, Spataro criticized Salvini’s move to close Italy’s ports to migrant rescue ships, saying it broke international law. Salvini responded: “Maybe the Turin prosecutor thinks all of Africa can be hosted by Italy?”
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri and Illaria Polleschi; Editing by Gareth Jones)