smuggler has said that migrants – such as these rescued by the Italian
navy – who are unable to pay for their journeys across the
Mediterranean, are sold to organ traffickers. Photo / AP
Migrants unable to pay for their journeys across the
Mediterranean are being sold to organ traffickers, an Eritrean smuggler
has told Italian authorities.
Nuredin Wehabrebi Atta, who was
arrested by Italian police in 2014, is the first foreigner given witness
protection by Italian authorities, after revealing details that have
led to arrests of dozens of alleged members of an elaborate criminal
network trafficking drugs, arms and migrants from Africa to Europe.
who were unable to pay for their voyages “were sold for £15,000
($23,185) to groups, particularly Egyptians, who were involved in
removing and selling organs”, Atta claimed.
His testimony led
police to an alleged trafficking network which they broke up yesterday,
arresting 23 and issuing arrest warrants for another 15 people in raids
The group included 25 Eritreans, 12 Ethiopians and an
Italian who police said belonged to an organisation that had smuggled
thousands of migrants into Europe from Africa.
The arrests were
part of a lengthy investigation conducted by Italian police connected to
Atta’s testimony that revealed cells in North Africa, Rome, Palermo,
Agrigento and other locations in Europe.
More than £526,000 and
US$25,000 ($34,700) in cash was recovered in June from the alleged Rome
cell which had its headquarters in a perfume shop near the city’s
The former people smuggler was sentenced to five
years in prison in February for his role in the operation. He said he
decided to collaborate “because there have been too many deaths in the
sea” and referred in particular to the 2013 tragedy in which 360 people
were killed at Lampedusa, although he said he was not involved in it.
a Palermo court heard that another alleged Eritrean smuggler extradited
to Italy with the assistance of Britain’s National Crime Agency was the
At a preliminary court hearing, defence lawyer
Michele Calantropo presented testimony from two refugees now living in
Sweden claiming that the arrested man is not the alleged notorious
people smuggler Medhanie Yehdego Mered, as authorities say.
told the court the arrested man was Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre, who the
refugees say has no connection to people smuggling, and asked for him
to be released from prison immediately. The hearing has been adjourned
until July 21.