(CNN)Italy's firebrand interior minister has threatened to pull an armed police guard off Roberto Saviano, the celebrated writer of a blockbuster book exposing the Camorra mafia.
Speaking on Italian public TV channel RaiTre, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hinted at a spending review of the writer's guard and said it was up to the relevant institutions to assess whether he runs any real risk to his safety.
"It seems to me that he spends a lot of time abroad, so it seems fair to me to evaluate how the Italians spend their money," Salvini said, adding: "He is the last of my problems. I'll send him a kiss if he is watching now. He is a person who provokes so much tenderness and affection, but it is right to evaluate how Italians spend their money,"
Saviano has been receiving threats to his safety after writing "Gomorrah," a non-fiction bestseller that denounced the Neapolitan mafia. Since 2006, the year "Gomorrah" was published, he has been under constant armed guard, living in police stations and anonymous hotels.
The writer, who is a public figure and frequent commentator on Italian society and politics, has grown increasingly critical of the harsh anti-immigration and xenophobic stance of the interior minister's League party, which may help explain the polarizing statement. After Salvini proposed a census of Italy's Roma population, Saviano wrote on Facebook: "Today someone with great responsibilities of government spoke in no uncertain terms of deportation of the Roma and none of his allies considered it appropriate to distance themselves from this abomination."
In response to Salvini, Saviano wrote on Twitter: "Italy is the Western country with more journalists under police escort because it has the most powerful criminal organizations in the world, but Matteo Salvini, interior minister, rather than fighting the mafia, threatens to silence those who report about it."
Many opposition politicians criticized the interior minister for his comment on Saviano. Former lower chamber speaker Laura Boldrini wrote on Twitter:
"Salvini should fight the mafia and not those who denounce and openly challenge it, as Roberto Saviano has been doing for years. To question the police escort of a person who's been threatened by organized crime is the opposite of what an interior minister should do."
But Salvini's statement is just the latest of a long line of threats to remove Saviano's police protection.
In August of last year, the League leader wrote on Facebook: "If we get elected, after blocking the invasion [of migrants], we'll also remove his useless police escort. What do you think?"
And in an interview for Vanity Fair on October 5, he doubled down, asking Saviano to renounce the escort.