Police in Sicily bust alleged Tunisia-Italy human trafficking gang

Italian police said on Thursday they had issued 18 arrest warrants for Italians and Tunisians allegedly involved in a human trafficking organisation bringing people from Tunisia to Sicily.

Police in Sicily bust alleged Tunisia-Italy human trafficking gang
Police said they had arrested 12 of 18 people suspected of smuggling migrants into Italy from towns on the Tunisian coast. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Police said in a statement that they had arrested 12 of the suspects, with six still unaccounted for.

The smuggling ring allegedly used small boats with powerful engines to transport between 10 to 30 people at a time from towns on the Tunisian coast to the southern Italian island of Sicily.

Migrants were “subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment” on the journey, lasting around four hours, which put their lives in “serious danger”, police said.

The suspected smugglers are alleged to have demanded payment in cash in Tunisia before departure, with the crossing costing between 3,000 euros and 5,000 euros per person, meaning the alleged traffickers were pocketing between 30,000 euros and 70,000 euros per trip.

The ringleaders were said to be a Tunisian man couple in the Sicilian town of Niscemi – despite them both being under house arrest at the time.

They relied on the help of a series of other people tasked with logistics such as money collection and putting up newly-arrived migrants, including a farmer alleged to have allowed the use of his land as a base for operations.

They now face charges of illegal cross-border trafficking of more than five people, with the aggravating circumstance of inhuman treatment and endangering lives and committing crimes for profit.

While the new Italian government says it will crack down on humanitarian ships that rescue migrants on boats departing from Libya, the majority of migrants arriving in Italy travel from Tunisia.

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‘Serious design flaw’: Ex-official says risk of Genoa bridge collapse was known

A former director of the group with ultimate responsibility for Italy's Genoa bridge has said it knew of the dangers eight years before the highway collapsed in 2018, killing 43 people.

‘Serious design flaw’: Ex-official says risk of Genoa bridge collapse was known

In 2010 Gianni Mion was managing director of the Benetton family’s holding group, Edizione, which owned Autostrade per l’Italia (Aspi), the company paid by the state to manage the Morandi bridge.

“In a meeting between managers and executives, doubts arose about whether the Morandi bridge could remain standing, due to a serious design flaw,” Mion told a court in Genoa on Monday at a trial hearing.

READ ALSO: Genoa bridge collapse: 59 people to stand trial over disaster as operator settles

“I asked if there was a third party that certified the stability of the viaduct. They told me that we self-certified it. That answer terrified me,” he said, according to Italian news agency reports.

“Nobody thought, though, that it would collapse and we were reassured on that point. I didn’t say anything but I was worried. I didn’t do anything and that’s my big regret,” Mion was quoted as saying.

Nearly 60 defendants went on trial in Genoa in July last year, accused of manslaughter and undermining transport safety over the collapse of the bridge in the northwest Italian city.

The Morandi bridge gave way in torrential rain on August 14, 2018, sending dozens of vehicles and their passengers tumbling into the abyss.

Egle Possetti, who heads a committee of victims’ relatives, said it was “unacceptable” for someone of Mion’s position to have remained silent.

Egle Possetti (C), at the first hearing of the Morandi bridge collapse trial on 7 July, 2022.

Egle Possetti (C), at the first hearing of the Morandi bridge collapse trial on 7 July, 2022. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP.

Those on trial include the general manager of Autostrade at the time, Giovanni Castellucci, and Antonino Galata, the former head of Spea, the engineering company in charge of maintenance.

Roberto Tomasi, who took over as general manager of Autostrade in 2019, told the court on Monday that “the level of network degradation was substantially worse than Spea’s inspections stated”.

READ ALSO: ‘The sadness is unending’: Italian families’ pain still raw ahead of Genoa bridge trial

He said Spea was not considered to be “reliable” and “the behaviour of some of its employees was unacceptable”.

Even though their former directors are on trial, Autostrade and Spea will escape the courts, thanks to an out-of-court settlement with the public prosecutor’s office, which provides for a payment of 29 million euros ($30 million) to the state.