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Sunday 22 October 2017

Millionaire IRA commander denies money-laundering and mafia links

Liam Clarke

A FORMER IRA commander, who is wanted by Italian anti-corruption police, has denied links to the mafia or republican money-laundering.

Millionaire Belfast businessman Harry Fitzsimons (63) – who runs a Dublin-registered foreign-property company – has been caught up in an Italian financial police investigation into property scams in the Calabria region, during which police seized €450m in property assets following dawn raids.

Nicola Gratteri, an anti-mafia prosecutor, has accused Mr Fitzsimons of being "delegated by the IRA to recycle the proceeds of terrorist activities and to reinvest the financial resources of the movement".

Fitzsimons is one of 20 suspects accused of mafia association and money-laundering by Italy's Guardia Finanza.

Fitzsimons, who is currently being sought by Italian police, admitted being involved in property deals in Italy.

However, he denied any involvement in money-laundering or any association with the infamous 'Ndrangheta mafia at the centre of the probe.

The former Provisional IRA prisoner, who was jailed for bombing a hotel in the 1970s, also claimed that he was no longer actively involved in the republican movement.

Speaking from an undisclosed location by mobile phone, Fitzsimons (63) said: "I am still a republican. I support the Good Friday Agreement, but I have not been active politically for a long time."

Fitzsimons said he was travelling in Europe and wanted to keep his whereabouts private until his solicitor could contact the PSNI and Italian police to see how he could help.

Bombing

The PSNI was involved in providing background on him for the Italian investigators.

Their main target was the 'Ndrangheta, one of the most powerful crime organisation in Italy, which is organised like the Sicilian mafia.

"I want to be in a position to co-operate with the PSNI but I want to do it in my space," Fitzsimons said.

He added: "If the PSNI or the Italian authorities want to see my bank details, they are welcome. My life is an open book, so are my bank accounts.

"I want to arrange it through my solicitor and I want to make it clear, thorough you, that I am not avoiding this issue."

Fitzsimons said he built up his fortune as a builder after being released from jail in 1981.

Described in court as one of the most active IRA officers, Fitzsimons was jailed for bombing the Woodburn House Hotel in Belfast in 1971. He lived in Calabria, the 'Ndrangheta's area of influence, from 2006 until 2012 but says he had no dealings with them.

He said the money he used in Italy came from the sale of a garage and shops on Belfast's Stewartstown Road, which netted him over Stg£2m (€2.3m) in 2006. He transferred Stg£1m of it to Calabria to invest in the beach-front developments.

Irish Independent

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