Eight people - four Italians and four Tunisians - have been arrested on charges of criminal association to aid and abet clandestine immigration and cigarette smuggling.
The inquiry, coordinated by the DDA anti-mafia and anti-terrorism investigators of Palermo, led to the discovery of a group that organized 'ghost trips' between Tunisia and the southern coast near Trapani along with smuggling of cigarettes mainly for the Palermo market.
Illicit mechanisms of group
Three persons, two residents of Marsala and one of Nizar Zayer, were the heads of the activity. All three are now in jail. One handled the accounts side and, with the help of another, the purchase and the purchase and storage of the vessels used. Three other Tunisians, also in jail, handled the procuring of migrants (called, cryptically, ''sheep'') and cigarettes to be transported while also acting as traffickers.
The migrants were regularised with the complicity of another resident from Marsala, who has been placed under house arrest and who is the owner of a firm and legal representative of an agricultural cooperative that stipulated fake employee contracts to enable stay permits to be renewed and to receive unwarranted unemployment benefits from the national social security agency INPS.
House arrest was also handed down to another member of the group from Trapani, who provided the dinghies used for the landings. The vessels were about 7.5 meters long and found equipped in Italy with 225-300 horsepower motors, with which the trips between Sicily and Tunisia could be done in a single night.
Migrants paid 3,000-8,000 Tunisian dinars
The payments were made in Tunisia. Normally about 250-300 kg of cigarettes and 10-12 people were taken every time, at a speed of 25-30 knots while sometimes threatening the travellers with knives or pistols.
Every migrant was required to pay between 3,000 and 8,000 Tunisian dinars, the equivalent of about 1,500 to 4,000 euros.
The cigarettes ensured earnings of about 20 euros per package. The investigation started in 2016 and made it possible to intercept 5 dinghies at sea, arrest 6 traffickers, and confiscate 990 kg of cigarettes as well as 3 dinghies.