Police arrest 20 for bringing people to EU on leisure boats

FOSSALTA DI PIAVE, Italy (AP) — Police in Italy and Albania have arrested more than 20 people accused of cashing in several hundred million euros to smuggle hundreds of refugees and migrants into the European Union from Turkey on rented yachts and other leisure vessels, authorities said Wednesday. Two brothers who are Iraqi citizens are accused of masterminding a smuggling ring that mostly involved people fleeing Iraq and Syria. The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn.

Italian financial police entered a modestly furnished house peacefully, and the brothers emerged wearing handcuffs and tracksuits. The suspects, identified as Alaa Qasim Rahima, 38, and Omar Qasim Rahima, 30, are accused of running a ring that helped bring Syrians from Turkey to the EU using a network of associates in various countries. They are believed to be part of a wider ring with as many as 80 members that allegedly organized at least 30 smuggling operations that transported at least 1,100 people by boat from Turkey to the coast of Puglia and then on to other European countries, EU law enforcement agency Europol said.

Another ringleader, also Iraqi, is accused of helping the smugglers evade detection in Italy and return to Turkey via Greece.

Payments were made through informal money transfer systems such as hawala, which is used in some African, Asian and Mideast countries by both low-wage workers and criminal gangs alike to move funds without wire or other records.

Authorities estimate the illegal profits from the people smuggling at several hundred million euros.

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