Italian authorities have issued arrest warrants for 14 people accused of trafficking migrants on speedboats from Tunisia. Migrants were charged as much as 3,000 euros per trip.
Anti-mafia police in Palermo uncovered a criminal group that organized migrant travel aboard speedboats from Tunisia to the coasts off Trapani in Sicily. Sicilian Judges issued arrest warrants for a total of 14 people related to the case. Two individuals have thus far managed to escape arrest.
The suspects are accused of being involved in criminal activities facilitating illegal immigration and smuggling contraband cigarettes and other products. Last week, eight people were arrested on the same charges.
Investigators discovered that in order to save money on purchasing vessels, this criminal group used stolen vessels and engines that had previously been used by human traffickers.
Both Tunisians and Sicilians among arrested
This is the fourth investigation in less than two years into these so-called "ghost landings": migrant crossings costing up to 3,000 euros per person aboard small vessels that are difficult to detect, as they are able to change their route at a moment's notice. The crews involved typically take small numbers of refugees on board, who reportedly are often wanted by law enforcement in their own countries.
Once they reach land, the migrant "disappear" quickly with the help a local network supporting the criminal trafficking gangs. In some cases, they even provide jobs for the migrants and allegedly even organize documents to help them build a new life. The criminal network is made up both of locals and Tunisians living in Sicily.
Ringleader was planning to blow up Carabinieri police station
Investigators said that a Tunisian living in Italy named Fadhel Moncer, known as "Blackbeard" was at the top of the organization. Officially, he was known as the manager of the Bellavista restaurant in Mazara del Vallo; however, police said he was actually the mastermind behind the group's migrant trafficking activities.
Authorities said the 39-year-old had already been arrested in 2012 for weapons and drug trafficking between Italy and France. Police said that he is considered very dangerous, and that before his arrest a week ago, he was allegedly planning to blow up a Carabinieri police station in Marsala.
He was recorded in a wiretap as saying: "I'll blow up the police station … I'll move the entire police station into the sea." Moncer reportedly told the police that he didn't know he was being wiretapped. "I'll blow up a bomb inside the police station in Marsala … The cops will flee Marsala," he was recorded as saying.
Money laundering and profiteering
The criminal organization, which reportedly has conducted dozens of trips in the past earning hundreds of thousands of euros, allegedly made more than 3 million euros by reinvesting its profits. Its financial ventures included a restaurant and a farm, both located in Mazara del Vallo, which have since been seized by the police.