Saturday, June 11, 2016

Eritrean man mistakenly jailed in Rome as an alleged migrant smuggling kingpin

ROME — (AP/NYTimes ) - An Eritrean man who says he was mistakenly jailed in Rome as an alleged migrant smuggling kingpin is expected to be transferred soon to Palermo, Sicily, where prosecutors are investigating human trafficking rings operating from Libya, the man's lawyer said Saturday.

Lawyer Michele Calantropo said that before a judge can rule on his bid that Sudan sent the wrong man to Italy on a warrant, prosecutors must formally present their opinion, a step he said could happen on Monday.

Sudan sent a suspect identified as Medhane Yehdego Mered to Italy, which sought his arrest abroad. But the Eritrean community abroad quickly contended the arrested man isn't Mered. The man's sister and others in the Eritrean community say the man flown from Sudan earlier in the week to Rome is an innocent man named Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre. They say Medhane and Medhanie are variations of the same first name, and insist the man now jailed in Rome was nabbed in a case of mistaken identity.

The trafficking rings launch unseaworthy, dangerously overcrowded boats with migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing poverty or conflicts toward European shores in a lucrative business that has seen hundreds of thousands of people rescued in the Mediterranean north of Libya in the last few years.

Calantropo said the man sent to Italy had worked as a carpenter in his native Eritrea, but later fled to Sudan to escape harsh conditions. According to the lawyer, he was sitting in a cafe when arrested and used no bodyguards or other precautions that a trafficking kingpin would likely have employed.

Palermo prosecutors, who are seeking an indictment, say the contentions the wrong man was arrested by Sudanese authorities are being checked out.