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No extradition request for man convicted over Yioham tragedy

Turab Ahmed Sheikh

Turab Ahmed Sheikh

The Maltese authorities have not received an extradition request for the man who was convicted by an Italian court for his involvement in the Yioham human trafficking disaster, one of the worst on record.

An appeals court in Catania recently overturned an acquittal and sentenced Turab Ahmed Sheikh, a 48-year-old Pakistani residing in Malta, to 30 years in prison for his role in the 1996 Christmas Day tragedy.

A total of 283 immigrants perished as they were being transferred between the ship Yioham and another boat. It was the worst accident at sea in the Mediterranean since World War II. Only 29 of the immigrants were rescued. Those who died were mainly Pakistanis, Indians and Sri Lankans but a Maltese is also thought to have drowned.

Last April the same Italian court had found the Yioham's Lebanese captain, Youssef El Hallal, guilty of homicide and jailed him for 30 years. But a year before that, Mr Sheikh had been acquitted by a Sicilian court. The prosecution had been asking for life imprisonment.

When asked whether an extradition request would be filed, Italian Ambassador, Paolo Andrea Trabalza, said he had no information about the case.

The Times contacted Mr Sheikh but he said he would not comment about the development.

The Pakistani man had already been extradited to Italy in October 2002 to face the charges of involuntary homicide for which he was then acquitted.

Contacted yesterday, criminal lawyer Joe Giglio, who had defended the Pakistani man at that time, said the first time he and Mr Sheikh had heard about the latest development was when they read about the judgement in the newspapers. "We were never informed of any procedure," he said.

Before the first case was heard by Sicilian courts, the Italian authorities had sought Mr Sheikh's extradition to prosecute him for involuntary homicide, shipwreck, conspiracy and human trafficking. However, a Maltese court had ruled that some of the charges were not extraditable offences under Maltese law and ordered his extradition to face charges only of involuntary homicide.

The case goes back to Christmas Day 1996 when a big group of illegal immigrants ended up falling into the rough sea and drowning as they were being transferred from the Yioham to a smaller Maltese-registered boat, the P174.

In an interview with The Times in 2003, Mr Sheikh had said that he had tried to stop the fateful voyage because of bad weather and had not gone out on the boat, as had been the plan.

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