Cyprus Mail

Suspected people smugglers walk free from Larnaca court

Larnaca courthouse

Three men who were suspected of smuggling 115 migrants in a boat that had to be rescued by Cypriot authorities walked free on Wednesday from the Larnaca court on jurisdictional grounds.

The suspects, two from Syria aged 33 and 47 and one from Lebanon aged 28 had set off from Lebanon in September last year with 115 migrants mainly Palestinian Syrians and Palestinian Lebanese.

The youngest were an eight-year-old child and a one-month-old baby.

Although they were meant to reach Rhodes, Greece which would serve as a gateway to the rest of Europe, on September 6, the boat sent a distress signal 40 nautical miles from Larnaca due to a technical problem.

They were rescued in the early hours by the Cypriot National Guard and police 28 nautical miles off Cape Greco.

The court heard Cyprus has no jurisdiction to sentence them as the men were not Cypriot nationals, the offences were not committed in the Republic of Cyprus, the boat did not bear the Cypriot flag nor was there any crime against Cypriot nationals.

The offences were committed outside Cypriot territory and more importantly, Cyprus was never part of the plan, the court said.

The boat had not set off for the island but for Rhodes. It was a mere accident they had ended up in Cyprus, the court said.

The three were cleared of all charges.

The migrants had paid between 2,000 US dollars and 3,500 US dollars to get on board.

They told authorities the Lebanese man who faced the charges had contacted a Middle Eastern man who was the mastermind organising the trip a few hours before their departure from Tripoli, Lebanon.

The Middle Eastern man allowed the Lebanese national to travel and board for free and he was offered an extra $1,000 to have the boat registered under his name.

This was because if the boat had been caught by Lebanese authorities, he believed it would not be inspected as it was registered to a Lebanese national.

The Lebanese man confessed he knew the Middle Eastern man was part of a ring that encouraged migrants to travel to the Greek islands.

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