Dozens of Eritreans smuggled by Mr. Mered also testified in court, refuting the accusation that the man who had landed in Rome and then taken to a jail in Palermo, Sicily’s capital, was their smuggler. Even Mr. Mered’s wife, who had not been living with her husband for years, testified via videoconference from Sweden that the man in custody was not her husband.
The authorities, however, maintained that their investigation was solid, given the court found Mr. Behre guilty of aiding illegal immigrants.
“That man has today been convicted of significant people-smuggling offenses. We remain confident in our intelligence gathering,” Britain’s National Crime Agency said. It had worked with its Italian partners, as well as the Sudanese police, in finding Mr. Behre in Khartoum.
“The court recognized that it was a person involved in aiding illegal immigration,” the Palermo chief prosecutor, Francesco Lo Voi, told the Italian news agency ANSA. “Thus, not a poor carpenter unjustly persecuted.”
In his comments after the verdict, Mr. Lo Voi made no mention that the authorities had yet to arrest the man suspected for the people-smuggling network.
Mr. Behre will now face an appeals court and then Italy’s equivalent of a supreme court, which, as is customary in the country’s judicial system, reviews all appeals decisions. This means it could take more than a year before his case is resolved.
Meanwhile, police have transferred Mr. Behre from a jail in Palermo to a detention center elsewhere in Sicily for migrants awaiting deportation. Under a new law designed by Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, migrants who are sentenced to jail will be expelled, even if they are awaiting another trial.
Mr. Calantropo, Mr. Behre’s lawyer, said he will appeal the expulsion. In any case, deporting Mr. Behre will be difficult since Italy doesn’t have a bilateral repatriation agreement with Eritrea, Mr. Behre’s country of origin.