Is he the boss of a massive human-trafficking ring or a victim of mistaken identity?
An Eritrean man extradited to Italy from Sudan this week is denying he is alleged trafficker Medhane Yehdego Mered.
Outside the Rome jail where he’s being held, his lawyer, Michele Calantropo, said he claims to be an Eritrean refugee called Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe: “He is another man that was taken by Sudanese police and then he [was brought] here but he doesn’t understand the meaning of this arrest.”
In Oslo, Norway a woman who says she is his half-sister showed reporters documents and photos that seemed to back up his story.
Hiwet Tesfamariam Berhe said: “When I saw him coming out of the plane for the first time, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that it was my brother. It took a long time and I had to watch it several times to realise it was my brother. It was a bad moment in my life to see my brother in Italy.”
Other members of her family have said it is definitely the wrong man being held in Italy.
If it turns out he is not the mastermind of a major criminal organisation that smuggled thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, it will be a major embarrassment for the authorities.
Italian magistrates and the British National Crime Agency, which played a central role in the operation to seize Mered, have said they are looking into claims they got the wrong man.
Mered, nicknamed ‘The General’, had been heard on intercepted telephone calls boasting about cramming more people onto rickety boats to make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy than other traffickers did, prosecutors have said.
And reportedly the man who was extradited to Italy was in possession of the phone on which those calls were made.