Court president Alfredo Montalto delivers the verdict in the case of an alleged people-smuggling kingpin identified by the court as Medhanie Yehdego Mered, who claims his identity has been mistaken and his name is really Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre, in Palermo, Italy, July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) – An Italian court on Friday said an Eritrean man extradited from Sudan in 2016 was not a human-trafficking kingpin, as claimed by prosecutors, but nonetheless had abetted people smuggling and handed him a 5-year prison term.
The ruling represents a setback to both Italian and British investigators who worked together to secure the arrest of the man, identified in court as Medhanie Yehdego Mered, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
Both countries hailed his capture at the time as a rare victory in their battle against human trafficking. But the seized man always insisted he was an impoverished refugee called Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre with no criminal background.
Italian prosecutors had rejected this and had demanded a 14-year prison sentence against the man they said was nicknamed “the General”, a notorious Eritrean smuggler who had made a fortune funneling migrants into Europe via lawless Libya.
The court ruled that the defendant was indeed the victim of mistaken identity, but had nevertheless aided human smuggling. Given he has already spent three years in jail, the judge ordered his release.
Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Philip Pullella