Europe

Migrant crisis: 'People-smuggler' says he is wrong man

Left: An image of the man believed to be Mered Medhanie previously released by the UK National Crime Agency; Right: the man extradited to Italy Image copyright NCA/Polizia di Stato
Image caption Left: An image of the man believed to be Mered Medhanie previously released by the UK National Crime Agency; Right: the man extradited to Italy

A man arrested in Sudan and extradited to Italy accused of being a top people-smuggler says the authorities have got the wrong man.

Earlier this week, prosecutors announced the capture of trafficking kingpin Mered Medhanie.

But the man currently being held in jail says he is instead Medhanie Tesfarmariam Berhe, his lawyer says.

He has been questioned by a judge and his legal situation is expected to be defined in the coming days.

The reported capture of Mered Medhanie, dubbed The General, was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against people-smugglers who send thousands of migrants on dangerous boats to Europe.

Investigators say Mered Medhanie was responsible for the deaths of 359 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off the Italian coast in October 2013.

The arrested man was seized by Sudanese police last month with the help of British and Italian authorities.

But doubts began to emerge soon after this week's extradition, with friends and family saying that the man seen handcuffed being escorted off a plane was not the suspected trafficker.

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Media captionSeghen Tesfarmariam Berhe: "I want to say to the police...that they arrested the wrong person"

Two women said to be sisters of Medhanie Tesfarmariam Berhe said he was the one arrested instead. He was said to be a 27-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker.

Italian prosecutors say checks are being carried out.