Italian and British police are investigating whether Mered Medhanie, the alleged kingpin behind smuggling thousands of people from the Middle East and African to Europe, who was extradited from Sudan to Italy, is the right person or not.
On Wednesday (8 June) friends of Medhanie alleged that in a case of mistaken identity, the police had arrested the wrong person. Sweden-based Eritrean broadcaster, Meron Estefanos was the first to raise the issue, when he said, "I have almost 400 people writing to me saying: I know this guy, he grew up with me. This is the wrong person."
Eritrean national Medhanie, who is also known as The General, was extradited to Italy on 7 June after being arrested in Khartoum, Sudan on 24 May. Investigators believe that Medhanie was the kingpin of a criminal organisation responsible for illegally transporting thousands of people to Europe.
He is also suspected of have arranged the boat that left from Libya with more than 350 migrants, but sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013. Around 359 migrants were killed in the mishap, according to Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA).
However, just few hours after the man was extradited, Italian and British authorities started investigating whether they had the wrong person in custody. Medhanie's three close friends have argued that the man sent to Italy was a 27-year-old refugee, Medhanie Tesfamariam Kidane, who was arrested in a street in Khartoum in May. It is just a coincidence that he shared the same first name of the wanted man.
Fshaye Tasfai, a 42-year-old Eritrean exile now living in Sicily, and Medhanie's cousin told the Guardian, "It's the wrong guy. It's incredible – he's not a human trafficker. He's from my family. He lived in my father's house. He left Eritrea in 2014, and then went to Khartoum about a year ago. He lived with my brothers and sisters in Khartoum. He didn't have a job so we use to send him money."
"He's my best friend. He's innocent," another friend of Medhanie said. However, an NCA spokesperson said: "We have noted your report. This is a complex multi-partner operation and it is too soon to speculate about these claims. The NCA is confident in its intelligence-gathering process."