* Asks lawmakers for tools, resources to investigate at sea
* Migrant arrivals by boat up 30 pct so far this year
* Prosecutor divisive figure in heated immigration debate
By Steve Scherer
ROME, May 3 An Italian prosecutor who began an
investigation into possible ties between humanitarian
organisations that rescue migrants at sea and Libya-based people
smugglers said on Wednesday he had no proof of any wrongdoing.
Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port
city of Catania, previously said he had evidence of phone calls
between people smugglers and aid groups, but on Wednesday he
said he was expressing only a "hypothesis" and had no proof that
could be used in court.
"The ample amount of money that some of the newer NGOs have
is an element of suspicion and it is something we are looking
into ... No evidence has yet been found" of illicit funding,
Zuccaro said. "The profiles of some NGO crew members are not
Speaking before a parliamentary committee convened to
investigate his claims, which he first aired in February when he
announced the fact-finding inquiry, Zuccaro asked lawmakers to
provide more resources and suggested putting police on ships in
the rescue zone.
Without more resources, his office is not able to further
the investigation, he said. Information he had collected so far
about the activity of non-governmental organisation ships came
from the EU border agency Frontex, Italy's navy and coast guard,
and the Internet, he said.
Various NGOs have strongly denied all allegations they have
colluded with people-smugglers.
Zuccaro has become a divisive figure in Italy's increasingly
heated debate about immigration, which is likely to become a key
issue in the national election due by next May. Italy has been
left virtually alone to manage hundreds of thousands of migrants
who have come by boat from North Africa. More than 1,000
migrants have died this year attempting the passage.
Migrant arrivals are up 30 percent so far this year from
2016, when a record 181,000 came by boat. Because they are no
longer moving onto Northern Europe as they did previously, their
presence is now more visible in cities and towns across the
Border closures by Italy's European Union partners and more
strict identification procedures mean that more of the migrants
are choosing to seek asylum in Italy.
Last week, Justice Minister Andrea Orlando said it was "a
lie" to paint aid groups as criminals and urged Zuccaro to open
a criminal investigation if he had proof of wrongdoing. No such
investigation has been opened.
On the other hand, the leaders of the 5-Star Movement,
currently polling as the country's most-popular party, and the
anti-immigrant Northern League condemned non-governmental groups
for providing a "taxi" service to migrants.
"Our country is not able to take in all migrants --
including the economic migrants," Zuccaro said, referring to
those who do not qualify for asylum.
(Editing by Larry King)