Eritrean national Medhanie Yehdego Mered is accused of being the General of one of the world’s largest migrant trafficking networks. File photo/ AFP
The fate of an alleged people trafficking kingpin who insists he is a victim of mistaken identity hangs in the balance on Friday, with a verdict expected in a trial against him in Italy.
Eritrean national Medhanie Yehdego Mered is accused of being “the General” of one of the world’s largest migrant trafficking networks, with branches in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan as well as Europe.
But the man on trial in Sicily, arrested in Sudan in 2016 and extradited to Italy, insists he is carpenter Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe.
The verdict will be delivered inside a massive bunker in Palermo built in the 1980s for the maxi-trial against the mafia.
The prosecution has called for him to be jailed for 14 years.
It is not the life sentence one might expect for an alleged people smuggling mastermind with blood on his hands, and proof they know they have the wrong man, the defendant’s lawyer says.
“They should just have said ‘we made a mistake’,” lawyer Michele Calantropo told AFP on Thursday.
Italy, Sudan and Britain at the time hailed the defendant’s capture as the stellar result of a joint operation which had dealt a significant blow to the people smuggling business.
Mered ended up on an international wanted list after being identified as the man who organised the packing of migrants onto a boat that sank off Italy in 2013, killing at least 360 people in one of the worst such disasters in the Mediterranean.
The “cynical and unscrupulous” Mered had been “continuously and constantly reaping vast profits while showing a contempt for human life,” according to a joint statement by Sudan, Italy and Britain announcing his arrest on May 24, 2016.
Calantropo insists that the man behind bars has only one thing in common with the trafficker: his first name, Medhanie.
Relatives have identified him as Berhe, and have provided evidence he was elsewhere when the trafficking was happening.
A New Yorker investigative reporter was told by “the General” himself in 2017 that the Italians had the wrong man.
“They have nothing on him, he did nothing,” Calantropo said.
“If he is convicted, I’ll do everything possible to defend the truth. Not just at the appeal court and supreme court, but at the European Court of Human Rights as well,” he added.
“This is one of the biggest injustices on the face of the earth.”
Medhanie was the name flagged by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) in 2016 when it heard someone going by that name calling the tapped phone of a suspected smuggler in Libya.
The man who made the calls was tracked down and arrested in Khartoum.
Admit their mistake
But while prosecutors say the calls were made to organise migrant trips, Calantropo says his client — who back home made extra money on the side by delivering milk — was just looking out for loved ones heading to Europe.
Prosecutors said two Eritrean translators had testified to police that the arrested man’s voice matched a 2014 recording of “the General” captured by wiretap, though standard voice recognition software failed to produce a result.
Members of Sudan’s secret service who arrested him testified at the trial that he had insisted his name was different.
But they told the court they had not informed their superiors because the name he gave had similarities to the one they had.
“I went to see him this morning, he cried without stopping for one hour and a half,” Calantropo said.
“You can only imagine the stress he has been under for the past three years.
“They got it wrong, they should now admit their mistakes,” he added.
The birth of the new coalition government between the populist Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party marks the end of the latest Italian political crisis – for now.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s announcement that six European Union (EU) countries had agreed to take in some 150 migrants from a rescue ship that Italy had blocked from docking is a welcome development that has helped resolve the latest standoff over immigration to Europe across the Mediterranean.
Torrente and Mansoori in Abu Dhabi 4 were fastest in the first official practice session on Lake Maggiore.
The CDU was still hoping to hold an in-person congress at a later date rather than a video conference, but acknowledged that the online format might be the only option if the pandemic cannot be brought under control.
As fighting over the disputed region enters its second month, international mediators are scrambling to bring a stop to frontline clashes and shelling of civilian areas that have left hundreds dead.
The UAE announced the detection of 1,111 COVID-19 cases on Monday over the past 24 hours. The ministry also announced the full recovery of 1,819 cases after receiving the necessary treatment.
The Reading Panel’s review process will be followed by an announcement of the Award’s long-list in November, paving the way for the second phase in which the Award’s jury will conduct a thorough literary review of all submissions.