From file: Migrants reach the port of Trapani | Photo: ANSA
From file: Migrants reach the port of Trapani | Photo: ANSA

A trial opened on May 18 in Trapani against eight people, including Italian and Tunisian citizens, accused of trafficking migrants from North Africa to Italy. The foreigners were forced to pay between 1,500 and 4,000 euros for a trip, according to investigators.

Eight people, Italian and Tunisian nationals, have gone on trial for allegedly trafficking migrants. The suspects were indicted following an operation called ''Sea Ghost'' carried out by tax police in Marsala on July 23, 2019. 

The defendants are accused for criminal association to favor illegal immigration, human trafficking and cigarette smuggling. 

Defendants involved 

The defendants include three men from Marsala and one from Trapani aged between 47-63; one works as a construction entrepreneur and another is the legal representative of an agricultural cooperative. 

Four defendants are Tunisian nationals, two of whom are being tried in absence. 

At the start of the first hearing on May 18, one of the defense attorneys, Luigi Pipitone, asked the court to scrap a ruling for an ''immediate judgement'' issued by Palermo preliminary investigations judge (GIP) Antonella Consiglio. 

According to the attorney, there was no clear evidence to justify this special proceeding, which does not include a preliminary hearing. The court is scheduled to rule on this issue on June 15. 

The evidence that has led to the trial 

The defendants allegedly called the migrants they smuggled from North Africa to Sicily ''lambs''. They transported them together with smuggled cigarettes, aboard powerful motorboats that carried up to 12 people and 250-300 kilos of cigarettes per trip. 

The migrants were allegedly forced to pay between 1,500 and 4,000 euros per trip and were often threatened with guns and knives. 

Investigators believe that the alleged head of the operation, a 60-year-old with a police record, was in charge of financial transactions and of buying and keeping the motorboats. 

Once they reached Sicily, the migrants were able to obtain a regular permit with the alleged ''complicity'' of the defendant working as a legal representative at an agricultural cooperative, who stipulated fake job contracts to enable the undocumented migrants to obtain or renew a stay permit. 

One of the other Italian defendants allegedly provided the motorboats for the landings. 

The Tunisian defendants found the migrants and the cigarettes to smuggle and took them to Italy, according to investigators. 

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