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China Human Traffickers Used Malta As Base in Europe

Posted by Author on August 7, 2007

by Karl Schembri, Malta Today, 05 August 2007-

Malta has served as a logistical base and launching pad for at least two Chinese underground gangs, illegally trafficking hundreds of co-nationals to Sicily by powerboats on trips that have proved fatal in stormy seas.

The evidence emerges in the wake of the arrest of five Chinese traffickers in Italy, one in Spain, and the naming of two wanted suspects currently serving sentences in the Maltese prison after being found guilty in other cases of human trafficking.

Early last Friday, Italian police arrested five Chinese traffickers in the investigation called ‘Operazione Marco Polo’ that has involved the cooperation of Malta’s police since the fatal landing of Chinese immigrants in Sicily two years ago.

In the early hours of 24 March 2005, nine Chinese irregular immigrants drowned after being forcibly thrown into the cold sea some 15 miles off the Ragusa coast from a speedboat loaded with 15 immigrants, which had left Malta at around 1am. Three of the bodies were never found.

Last Friday’s arrested suspects were wanted by Interpol for at least 11 landings in which they carried 200 immigrants, including several who died on the shores of Sicily.

They were involved in the arrival of hundreds of Chinese from the regions of Zhejiang and Fujian through normal student visas issued by the Maltese embassy in Beijing between 2004 and 2005. Once here, the “students” would enrol in English language classes, but Malta was only a stepping stone into Europe for them as they would disappear after a few days, some of them forever.

The suspects arrested in Rome, Palermo, Catania, Avellino, Rovigo and Barcelona are directly connected to other fatal trips including that of 29 November 2004, when a Chinese woman in her 20s was found dead on a beach in Siracusa. Her trousers dirtied with sand, she was hit on her head a few hours before she was found, according to the autopsy.

A week later, the body of another woman was found drifting 40km off Siracusa. According to the inquiring magistrates, she was probably killed on the same day as the previous victim and carried away by the currents.

On 8 December 2004, the corpse of another woman in her twenties with a broken neck and a maimed face was found in Vizzini, Catania.

Also in December, another two Chinese nationals were found dead on the shores of Donnalucata, Ragusa.

One of the gang leaders masterminding the clandestine China-Malta-Italy route is Mulian Jiang, 37, who was arrested in Spain from where he operated a chain of around 15 restaurants.

According to police investigators, Jiang was responsible for the organisation and the arrival of Chinese nationals to Malta – a logistical base for the entire operations that was exposed in the March 2005 tragedy, fuelling an acerbic diplomatic dispute as Italy accused Malta of turning a blind eye to the trafficking of Asian immigrants.

The incident had also led to a clean sweep at the Maltese embassy in Beijing amid Opposition charges that one of the Maltese diplomats posted there was favouring a tourism agency specialising in language student travel by granting visas irregularly to its clients.

Although a police investigation ordered by Foreign Minister Michael Frendo found “no irregularities or criminal intent”, Ambassador Saviour Gauci, Consul Joe Pirotta and Jonathan Galea were removed from their China assignment as, according to the Foreign Office, visa administrative procedures “could have been followed more strictly”.

“What we did was to examine the administrative procedures adopted by the embassy, which were not strictly adhered to,” Frendo had said. “In the circumstances the credibility of the embassy has been irreversibly prejudiced.”

Denying accusations of “lack of cooperation” with Italy, Malta extradited two suspects accused in the March 2005 case; Carmelo Borg, 28, of St Paul’s Bay and Chinese national Wei Wang, 31. They are charged of conspiring with a Maltese criminal organisation and ferrying the illegal immigrants on that ill-fated journey.

In their testimony, the six Chinese survivors confirmed that the suspects took a total of 15 Chinese people on the speedboat. They were forced to jump out of the boat in the middle of the night into the cold sea.

They testified that they were forced to jump after being beaten on the head with oars. Those who did not know how to swim never reached the shore and drowned.

Another Chinese man resident in Malta, Lin Yi, 24, who is also wanted by the Italian authorities on this case, is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence and was fined Lm10,000 by a Maltese court after admitting to human trafficking and forging a stamp on his passport.

Survivors’ accounts and autopsies on the corpses of several Chinese immigrants found on Sicilian shores shed a light on the Chinese and Maltese traffickers’ ruthlessness and blatant disregard towards human life.

Armed with firearms, they forced immigrants to jump off their boats miles away from the Sicilian shores to avert the Italians’ surveillance. Those who disobeyed were brutally beaten with pistols or rifle butts, some even to death: “an example” to all those still on board of the fate that awaits protestors.

The other persons to end behind bars last week are Baizhen Jiang, 52; Yinkai Jian, 39; Jianyn Xu, 34; Wenhui Chen, 32 and Jiantong Zhang, 34.

Another seven international arrest warrants have been issued through Interpol.

Charlot Zahra contributed to this report.

Original report from MaltaToday.com.mt

Related:
Italian Police Disrupt Chinese Human Trafficking Ring, 5 Arrested in 5 Cities

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