Anti-Mafia prosecutor Calogera Ferrara said his officers have dismantled a people-smuggling network and arrested 14 men – mostly Eritreans – in Sicily, Milan and Rome. Ferrara says he expects another eight to be detained in the next few days.
'A business based on human goods'
Ferrara began investigating people-smugglers the morning of the Lampedusa sinking in October 2013. He directed his officers to ask the survivors for the phone numbers of the men who sent them. By tapping those lines and tracing calls to other numbers, he built a phone tree of thousands of numbers whose branches stretch from Africa to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and into the US.In 18 months, he and his team recorded more than 30,000 calls. Those transcripts, some of which Ferrara made available to Newsweek, reveal the existence of several wholly new, multinational organised crime syndicates, together worth around $7bn (€6bn) a year. They also identify the Ethiopian man who is among the busiest and most sophisticated of the new people traffickers. "He is a merciless criminal that, for money, has created a business based on 'human goods'," says Ferrara. The Ethiopian's network offers "a complete service to migrants, running from the centre of Africa to Libya to Italy to another country from there. It includes all accommodation, transport and food". It is, says Ferrara, a criminal operation like no other. No name, no fixed base, a fluid membership and, most remarkably, "totally without risk". "With drugs, if you lose the drugs, you lose your money," says Ferrara. "But in this case, you pay in advance. Even if the migrants drown, Ermias has already been paid."
Ermias Ghermay's clients describe him as about 40, short and stocky. In conversation, he seems uneducated but street-smart: dynamic, plausible and fluent in several languages, including Arabic and Tigrinya, the ancient tongue of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. "Really smart," says one Palermo police officer. "He has the capacity to organise an international criminal enterprise that is very complicated – lots of people, lots of contacts, spread everywhere, and moving money and people between them. He's a professional."
Over the months Ferrara has been tapping Ghermay's calls, the Ethiopian has given glimpses of his operation in asides and casual boasts. Ghermay, it transpires, has been working as a people smuggler for about a decade. Like many others, he bases himself on the Libyan coast, mostly in the capital, Tripoli or, in the port of Zuwarah to the west.
Read full investigative story at NewsWeek