Two new charges in the second hearing of “Walid”, accused trafficker, in the Netherlands

The second pro-forma hearing of Tewelde Goitom, also known as “Walid” or “Welid”, took place in the Netherlands on 6 April 2023. He is accused of leading a criminal network that committed grave human rights abuses in Libya and extorting refugees to pay large sums of ransom. During the hearing, the prosecution accused two further charges: Walid was accused of attempting to influence witnesses from prison in the Netherlands. The conversations were caught on wiretap by the prosecution. Walid is further accused of falsifying ID documents, by attempting to obtain an Ethiopian driver’s licence from detention. Partly due to the new charges, Walid has been placed under a stricter prison regime. A facial comparison performed by the Netherlands Forensic Institute showed that the defendant was more likely than not a match with a known picture of Walid.

It is the first time a top-level human trafficker is being tried in the Netherlands. The crimes for which he is on trial in the Netherlands are additional to the crimes for which he was convicted in Ethiopia. The Dutch prosecution is asking for the extradition of another top-level human trafficker, Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, who was rearrested in Sudan on 1 January 2023 and is currently being tried for money laundering in the UAE. The prosecution would like to bring the cases together. The next hearing of Walid will be held on 27 June 2023 at 13:30 in the courthouse in Zwolle. Walid continues to maintain that he is not the man he is accused of being.

Tewelde Goitom is a 39 years old Eritrean accused of being part of a highly lucrative and violent international smuggling organization and of having trafficked thousands of Eritreans from Africa to Europe between 2014 and 2020. He was arrested in 2020 in Ethiopia, which has recently extradited the man to the Netherlands under the request of the Public Prosecution Service.

Welid and Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, as well as several other top-level traffickers, worked from compounds in Bani Walid, a Libyan town, where the traffickers transported refugees under false promises. Once arrived, they are detained under inhumane circumstances, held in captivity for months and subjected to beatings, torture, starvation and sexual violence. Their families and community is forced to pay thousands of USD in ransoms; but even after payment, many are sold on to other traffickers. The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service (OM) reported that the migrants were mistreated on the way crossing the Mediterranean as well and many died on the overcrowded and unreliable boats.

Kidane was arrested in Ethiopia together with Welid and five other co-conspirators and he was detained in Ethiopia until he managed to escape from the Ethiopian court in February 2021. He has been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in Ethiopia for human smuggling, reports the OM, and placed on the Netherlands National Most Wanted List in 2021, besides being listed internationally. In January 2023 he was arrested in Sudan thanks to an international police operation, and he is now in custody in the UAE. The Dutch public prosecutor is seeking his extradition.

Welid is tried under the name Amanuel Yirga Damte, which, according to The Guardian, victims said is a cover name. He was arrested in Ethiopia in March 2020 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. As part of the families he extorted were local in the Netherlands, the OM requested his extradition to the Netherlands in order to exercise its jurisdiction on this case and prosecute it. This request was granted.The criminal investigation on the organisation of Welid was carried out by the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, together with others, including Italy, Europol, Interpol and the International Criminal Court. On 10 January 2023, the suspect appeared in court for a first pre-trial hearing before the Overijssel Court of First Instance in Zwolle.

The next hearing of Walid is set for 27 June 2023 at 1:30 PM.

‘Cruel’ trafficker accused of torturing refugees found guilty in Ethiopia | Libya | The Guardian

Infamous human smuggler sentenced to 18 years in Ethiopian prison | News | Al Jazeera

Notorious human trafficker from Eritrea sentenced to 18 years in Ethiopian jail | Addis Zeybe – Digital Newspaper

Tewelde Goitom – Eritrea’s notorious people trafficker – in Dutch court today – Eritrea Hub

Ethiopia extradites trafficker to the Netherlands in criminal case on migration crime | News item | Public Prosecution Service

Eritrean human smuggler wanted by the Netherlands arrested in Sudan | News item | Public Prosecution Service

Eritrean suspect of large-scale migration crime appears before Dutch court | News item | Public Prosecution Service

Alleged Eritrean people smuggler appears in Dutch court | AP News

Notorious Eritrean human trafficker arrested in Sudan; Netherlands seeking extradition | NL Times

Five new suspects in major human smuggling case around notorious Eritrean | NL Times