The Palermo court on Friday (July 12th) recognized an identity error in the case of an Eritrean man accused of leading a large network of migrant smugglers, another blow for investigators struggling to strike networks at the head. The man who was mistaken for Medhanie Yehdego Mered by the authorities is not the "boss" of the smugglers sought by the Italian courts.
The court ordered the immediate release of the man tried, while matching his decision with a conviction for aid to illegal immigration, a sentence covered by his detention pending trial.
Present in the courtroom-bunker scheduled for Mafia trials, a sister of the accused burst into tears at the verdict, while members of the Eritrean community shouted for joy and the accused, who learned in prison the Italian gesture but not the language, thanked his interpreter warmly.
>> Read also: "In Italy, the largest migrant reception center in Europe closes its doors"
The man then went out of the courthouse aboard a police van towards the prison, where he had to recover his belongings and then recover his freedom. "I believe they have found a solution to Solomon," his lawyer, Michele Calantropo, told reporters, calling the recognition of identity error a "big hit" for the defense.
Fearing that his client would be deported in the wake of his release, he claimed to have immediately applied for asylum on his behalf.
In June 2016, the Italian authorities had proudly announced the arrest in Sudan and the extradition to Italy of Medhanie Yehdego Mered, after years of investigation into these networks that sent hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe, and thousands to death.
Arrested for having flirted with the woman of the real "boss" of the smugglers
The chief of network Mered was suspected in particular of having chartered the ship whose sinking had made more than 366 dead on October 3, 2013 in front of the island of Lampedusa. But, very quickly, the testimonies poured in to say that the arrested man was not Mered but Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, an Eritrean refugee stranded in Khartoum and having in common with the wanted man only a first name relatively current in Eritrea.
Several investigations conducted by Italian, American and Swedish journalists have established that Behre was spotted in the spring of 2016 by investigators because he had flirted with Mered's wife on Facebook and called a smuggler to Libya to hear from cousin left for Europe.
At that time, the investigators had lost track of Mered, arrested in late 2015 in Dubai for holding false passport. Released eight months later, he now lives in Uganda, according to these journalists.