- Title: Doubts over identity of accused people smuggler raised at Italy court
- Date: 22nd November 2016
- Summary: PALERMO, ITALY (NOVEMBER 22, 2016) (REUTERS) SUSPECT SEATED IN COURT (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) DEFENCE LAWYER MICHELE CALANTROPO SAYING: "We have found witnesses and documents that show today the person who is on trial is not Mr. Mered Medhane Yehdego but a poor boy Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe who is a refugee, like many others, who was in Sudan trying to start the journey to come to Europe."
- Embargoed: 7th December 2016 14:14
- Keywords: migrants trial smuggler Palermo Mered Medhane Yehdego
- Location: PALERMO AND ROME, ITALY
- City: PALERMO AND ROME, ITALY
- Country: Italy
- Topics: Asylum/Immigration/Refugees,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00359J1HZB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:A man alleged to be the head of a people smuggling gang arrested earlier this year appeared in an Italian court for the first time on Tuesday (November 22) as his lawyer raised doubts about whether it was a case of mistaken identity.
The man, identified as Medhane Yehdego Mered, was arrested in Sudan in May and extradited to Italy two weeks later. Prosecutors accused him of being a people smuggler who calls himself "the General" after the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
But the accused man's lawyer said his client's name is Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, and that he is an Eritrean refugee who wanted to emigrate to Europe.
Guards wearing azure berets escorted Berhe, who appeared to have gained weight since his arrest, to a cell surrounded by bullet-proof glass for the hearing.
The official start of the trial was postponed at least until Nov. 28 as prosecutors challenged the presence of one of the three presiding judges.
The accused man's lawyer, Michele Calantropo, said the identity of the accused should be settled before the trial is held.
"We have found witnesses and documents that show the person who is on trial is not Mr. Medhane Yehdego Mered, but a poor boy, Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, who is a refugee like many others," Calantropo told Reuters after the hearing.
A black and white photograph handed out by Calantropo to reporters will make up part of the defence. The photograph shows Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe in a graduation ceremony from a plumbing school in Eritrea. The defence says this shows their client was not involved in smuggling people in Libya at the same time, as the prosecutors indicate.
Calogero Ferrara and Claudio Cammilleri, prosecutors in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, say that they captured the right man, though they may have got his name wrong.
They also say that the picture of their suspect, which bears little resemblance to the man arrested, was discovered to be of someone else who had nothing to do with the case.
The case underscores the difficulties in fighting people smuggling to Europe from Africa. Both Italy and Britain, whose National Crime Agency helped coordinate the man's arrest with Sudanese authorities, have a lot riding on the case.
If it turns out that the wrong man was seized, it would be a huge blow in their battle against traffickers who have shipped some 500,000 migrants to Italy across the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.
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