Former Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Diaspora Affairs, Osaze Osemwegie-Ero, on Monday lamented his 19-month incarceration in Italy in 2019 for an alleged link to a mafia organization.
He also criticized Italy’s judicial system, alleging that it allows room for forgery and non-offense evidence used to imprison Nigerians.
Speaking to journalists in Benin, Osemwegie-Ero identified Article 416-BIS of the Italian penal code, which he said is mainly used to convict hundreds of Nigerians in Italy. He however expressed his joy that his insistence on his innocence and the privilege of being able to fund his legal team to the tune of over 43 million naira resulted in the release of some Nigerians earlier this year since the trial judge in his case declared the notorious code illegal.
He said: “As you will recall, as I traveled to Germany via Amsterdam for an official meeting with the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Ambassador Mr Tugga, and other Edo natives in Germany , to discuss, among other matters, ways to recover the artifacts stolen from Benin, I was arrested and detained in Amsterdam, then extradited to Italy where I was tried on false charges of belonging and even d being the kingpin of a Nigerian mafia organization.
“In the judgment of the Honorable Judge Paolo Gallo rendered on May 29, 2021, His Lordship found and established among other things; that I did not belong to any criminal organization and that the evidence provided by the prosecution was falsified and unacceptable.
“During my detention, I was exposed to the ordeal of over 300 Nigerians who were unlawfully detained and convicted of mafia related offenses without any evidence to prove that they committed the crimes they were charged with.
“It should be noted that all these Nigerians were convicted of the same offense under Article 416-BIS of the Italian Penal Code, stating that they are members of a Nigerian mafia organization involved in the importation and export of firearms, drugs, human trafficking. , prostitution, extortion, murders, etc.
He said that on October 28, 2020, 70 Nigerians were arrested and charged with Section 416-BIS and the only evidence shown on TV was a kitchen knife, while on April 26, 2021, 51 Nigerians were arrested. in Bari for the same Mafia-related crimes and evidence shown on TV was an old Nigerian film and an old clip of the Ijaw and Itsekiri community clash adding that Nigerians were imprisoned for up to 140 years with a bogus mafia manual they call “The Green Bible”, which he said was the only physical evidence produced by Italian prosecutors during his trial.
While discouraging Nigerians in Italy from engaging in criminal activities, Osemwegie-Ero said, “We hereby call on the relevant United Nations and European Union agencies to investigate these events in Italy. We call on the Italian government to investigate how Dr. Stefano Castellani and others have abused the use of Section 416-BIS as evidenced by the cases against innocent Nigerians.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant Nigerian agencies should take responsibility and get involved in the fight to free other Nigerians who are still being unlawfully detained for crimes they did not commit. We sincerely hope that this form of racism will soon end.
He congratulated the current Nigerian Ambassador to Italy, Amb. Mfawaomini Abam, for his efforts to help Nigerians, a situation which he says did not happen under the former ambassador.
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