Revealed: Former Ira bomber arrested over mafia money laundering racket

Belfastdaily.co.uk A CONVICTED IRA bom­ber tur­ned pro­per­ty magna­te from west Bel­fa­st has been arre­sted in west Afri­ca. It is under­stood Har­ry Fitzsi­mons was detai­ned in the Sene­gal capi­tal of Dakar last month. Ita­lian poli­ce had issued an arre­st war­rant for Mr Fitzsi­mons in con­nec­tion with an alle­ged Mafia money-laun­de­ring ope­ra­tion in Cala­bria in Ita­ly. The 63-year-old has denied any wrong­doing and said the alle­ga­tions made again­st him were unfoun­ded. The Depart­ment of Forei­gn Affairs in Dublin con­fir­med Mr Fitzsimon’s deten­tion. It is pro­vi­ding con­su­lar assi­stan­ce to Mr Fitzsi­mons and said it could not com­ment fur­ther. Har­ry Fitzsi­mons is listed as a direc­tor, or for­mer direc­tor, of four pro­per­ty com­pa­nies in Bel­fa­st and Dublin. Hen­ry James Fitzim­sons, or ‘Har­ry’ to his friends, and who is ori­gi­nal­ly from the Ander­son­sto­wn area of west Bel­fa­st, was said to have been among 20 peo­ple detai­ned by Cara­bi­ne­ri ear­lier this year. Ita­lian poli­ce have issued a Euro­pean Arre­st War­rant (EAW) for his arre­st and are cur­ren­tly liai­sing with the PSNI’s Orga­ni­sed and Serious Cri­me Branch about his whe­rea­bou­ts. Euro­pol and Inter­pol trac­ked him throu­gh a pas­sport to Afri­ca. Ita­lian poli­ce named him as a suspect, say­ing he had a con­vic­ted for an IRA bom­bing offen­ce. The soli­ci­tor for Mr Fitzsi­mons said his client had not at any time been con­tac­ted by poli­ce in either Ita­ly or Nor­thern Ire­land. Dan McGuin­ness, the soli­ci­tor sta­ted: “Mr Fitzsi­mons total­ly refu­tes the alle­ga­tions being made again­st him which are unfoun­ded. “He has not at any time been con­tac­ted by the poli­ce in either Ita­ly or Nor­thern Ire­land and has been car­ry­ing out a legi­ti­ma­te busi­ness as a pro­mo­ter of pro­per­ties in south Ita­ly.” But Ita­lian autho­ri­ties have pain­ted a dif­fe­rent pic­tu­re of the west Bel­fa­st man. Ita­lian pro­se­cu­tor Nico­la Grat­te­ri descri­bed Mr Fitzsi­mons as “a midd­le­man dele­ga­ted by the IRA to recy­cle the pro­ceeds of ter­ro­ri­st acti­vi­ties and to rein­ve­st the finan­cial resour­ces of the move­ment”. The Guar­dia di Finan­za branch of the Ita­lian poli­ce said the inve­sti­ga­tion invol­ved “the Irish Repu­bli­can Army mili­tant group which has now mostly been disban­ded”. The inve­sti­ga­tion is lin­ked to the cases of up to 74 Nor­thern Ire­land fami­lies who claim they have been scam­med into making pay­men­ts for holi­day pro­per­ties in Cala­bria which never mate­ria­li­sed. “We secu­red a £740,000 order in respect of 13 of my clien­ts and the­re is ano­ther case for £7m invol­ving ano­ther 61 peo­ple,” said Simon Cham­bers of Rus­sell and Co Soli­ci­tors in New­to­w­nards. He con­fir­med that the Ita­lian raids were con­nec­ted to the case which cen­tres around two deve­lo­p­men­ts. Lea­ding Ita­lian new­spa­per La Repub­bli­ca repor­ted: “Hen­ry James Fitzsi­mons from Bel­fa­st… is said to have found in the rela­tion­ship with the Cala­brians a method of rein­ve­sting lar­ge sums of money. “Fitzsi­mons has ser­ved 15 years in pri­son in Ire­land for an attack 20 years ago on a Bri­tish Army bar­racks.” It added that, accor­ding to the Ita­lian pro­se­cu­tor: “He was spe­cial­ly dele­ga­ted by the Nor­thern Irish orga­ni­sa­tion for laun­de­ring ope­ra­tions invol­ving funds ori­gi­na­ting from the mafia. “The col­la­bo­ra­tion is said to have star­ted around 2007–2008, with the fir­st con­tact bet­ween mem­bers of the Naples Camor­ra and with the ‘Ndran­ghe­ta fami­lies, who from 2005 had esta­bli­shed a busi­ness for the con­struc­tion of hotel com­ple­xes that laun­de­red dir­ty money.” Last night PSNI sour­ces con­fir­med they were chec­king whe­ther the man being sought in Ita­ly was Har­ry Fitzsi­mons from west Bel­fa­st, an acti­ve repu­bli­can in the 1970s and 1980s. The Ita­lian poli­ce said mem­bers of the ‘Ndran­ghe­ta and Spa­nish busi­ness­men had crea­ted a “joint ven­tu­re” to build resi­den­tial and tou­ri­sm pro­per­ties in Cala­bria begin­ning in 2005. Yester­day mor­ning, shor­tly after 6am, Guar­dia di Finan­za offi­cers laun­ched ‘Ope­ra­tion Metro­po­lis’, sei­zing an esti­ma­ted €450m (£390m) in asse­ts. The suspec­ts were arre­sted as part of ‘Ope­ra­tion Metro­po­lis’ and asse­ts worth 450 mil­lion of Euros (£390m) were sei­zed during anti-mafia raids. As well as cash, inve­sti­ga­tors sei­zed com­pa­nies and holi­day vil­la­ges, the poli­ce say. Ita­lian poli­ce secre­tly bug­ged mee­tings and con­ver­sa­tions. It is alle­ged during one con­ver­sa­tion a voi­ce is heard to say: “We can take the money back to Bel­fa­st.” Born in 1949, Har­ry Fitzi­mons is said to have spent “35 years in social hou­sing in Bel­fa­st”, accor­ding a pro­fi­le on him. In the ear­ly 1970s, he was con­vic­ted of a bom­bing offen­ce in Bel­fa­st. Four years ago he for­med a joint deve­lo­p­ment com­pa­ny, VFI Over­seas Pro­per­ties, with Ita­lian part­ner, Anto­nio Velar­do. “I met Anto­nio three years ago, when we fir­st discus­sed going into busi­ness toge­ther,” he says on a Bebo social net­work page. A war­rant has also been isued for Velar­do. Two years ago the com­pa­ny won two major awards for its luxu­ry pro­per­ty deve­lo­p­men­ts in sou­thern Ita­ly. Ita­lian cara­bi­nie­ri escort Fran­ce­sco Mai­sa­no, an alle­ged ‘Ndran­ghe­ta boss who was arre­sted in Cala­bria. Tuesday’s raids were promp­ted by inve­sti­ga­tions begun in 2008 and cen­tre on the ‘Ndran­ghe­ta cri­me net­work and its acti­vi­ties in tou­ri­sm. Ita­lian media reports say that Spa­niards were among tho­se arre­sted, as well as one per­son suspec­ted of having links to the IRA. The raids were made ear­ly on Tue­sday mor­ning. Tho­se arre­sted were being held on suspi­cion of offen­ces inclu­ding mafia acti­vi­ty and re-invest­ment of illi­cit asse­ts. Some of the resorts were loca­ted in the coa­stal areas of the Cala­bria region The poli­ce say their inve­sti­ga­tions revea­led “an exten­si­ve and com­plex net­work of Ita­lian and forei­gn com­pa­nies” which ena­bled cri­me gangs to beco­me invol­ved in the owner­ship and deve­lo­p­ment of “dozens” of real esta­te ven­tu­res and tou­ri­st resorts. Some of the resorts were loca­ted in the coa­stal areas of the Cala­bria region – reno­w­ned for their beau­ty. The busi­nes­ses had for­ged links bet­ween the fami­lies of the ‘Ndran­ghe­ta and “impor­tant Spa­nish entre­pre­neurs”, the poli­ce say.