African migrant smuggler extradited; wife in Sweden, money in U.S. banks

African-migrant-smuggler-extradited-wife-in-Sweden-money-in-US-banks.  ROME, One of the world’s most wanted people smugglers has been arrested and extradited to Italy.

Mered Medhanie, wanted in connection with the illegal trafficking of thousands of migrants to Europe, has been arrested after being tracked down by Britain’s National Crime Agency: Photo courtesy NCA

Mered Medhanie, a native of Eritrea, was flown to Rome on Tuesday after being held by authorities in Sudan since last month.

He is said to be the leader of an international smuggling network that has led to the deaths of hundreds of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Medhanie, 35, is known as ‘The General’ because he styled himself on former Libyan dictator Colonel Gadhafi, and is said to have driven around in a tank.

Britain’s National Crime Agency tracked him to an address in Khartoum, where he was arrested.

Medhanie is thought to be responsible for a boat that sailed from Libya and capsized and sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013. At least 359 migrants died. Most were from Eritrea and Somalia.

Prosecutors say that Medhanie ran a people-trafficking network operating between central Africa and Libya. His alleged accomplice, an Ethiopian, is still at large.

The pair are accused of sending migrants on barely seaworthy ships across the Mediterranean towards Europe. Italian newspaper La Republica writes that in taped telephone conversations Medhanie boasts that he smuggled 7,000- 8,000 migrants and can be heard laughing about overloaded boats.

A married man, with a wife and children in Sweden, he reportedly said that he kept his earnings from people trafficking in America and Canada. “There, they don’t ask where you got it from,” he is quoted as saying.

“Medhanie is a prolific people-smuggler and has absolute disregard for human life,” said Tom Dowdall, deputy director of the NCA, who was working in conjunction with investigators in the Sicilian city of Palermo. “He no doubt thought he was beyond the reach of European justice but we were able to support the Italians by tracking him down to Sudan.”

Italy’s Corriere Della Serra newspaper said that Medhanie charged migrants around $5,700 to travel from African countries to northern Europe. He claimed to have a network of workers in Italy and even bragged that he was in league with local officials in Tripoli, Libya.

It is said that he would buy up migrants who had been kidnapped by other criminal gangs, then offer to sail them to Europe in exchange for a fee.

Canada-based barrister Christine Duhaime, who specializes in money-laundering legislation, told the BBC’s Newsday program: “He is notorious just for the fact that he controlled a lot of money and a lot of people. As kingpin, the amount of money that went through him is apparently in the billions.”

By Martin Smith