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Eritrean says he's not smuggling kingpin

10 June 2016, 18:30

Rome - The Eritrean man extradited to Italy under great fanfare as an alleged kingpin of a migrant smuggling ring told authorities on Friday that his arrest in Sudan was a case of mistaken identity, his lawyer said.

"It is clear for Medhane Yehdego Mered that he is not the man who is smuggling or trafficking humans," Michele Calantropo said outside the Rome prison where Mered was questioned by prosecutors from Sicily leading Italy's anti-smuggling investigations in the presence of a judge.

Prosecutors identified the suspect as Mered, an alleged mastermind of a migrant smuggling ring that has brought thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa to Italy via lawless Libya. Within hours of the announcement, however, the Eritrean diaspora in Europe starting buzzing with reports that the man escorted off the plane was not Mered, but an Eritrean refugee with a similar first name who had been living in Sudan.

He has been identified by a Swedish-based Eritrean broadcaster as Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe. The broadcaster has interviewed Mered, the smuggling suspect, in the past and knew immediately that it was the wrong person.

Calantropo said that British authorities and the Sudanese police who arrested the suspect two weeks ago maintained they had the right man and that Italian authorities were now taking steps to verify his identity. Calantropo said he is requesting documents from relatives in Norway and Sudan.

He said no requests for DNA samples or fingerprint verifications have been made so far.

- AP


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