Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

I'm no Mafia stooge, says ex-IRA man in hiding after raids by Italian police

A former IRA commander wanted by Italian anti-corruption police has spoken out to deny all links to Mafia crime or republican money laundering.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph from an undisclosed location, Harry Fitzsimons (63) has also offered to open his bank accounts to the police. The millionaire Belfast businessman was caught up in a Guardia Finanza investigation of a property scam in the Calabria region when police seized €430m (£390m) in dawn raids. Nicola Gratteri, an anti-Mafia prosecutor, accused Fitzsimons being "delegated by the IRA to recycle the proceeds of terrorist activities and to reinvest the financial resources of the movement".

He told this paper: "I am still a republican, I support the Good Friday Agreement, but I have not been active politically for a long time. Sinn Fein actually came to our house the other day and asked could they help, but we didn't take it up. The republican movement has never asked me to channel any money for them, and I wouldn't do it if I was approached."

He went on to deny any links to dissident republicans. He said it was right to end the IRA campaign and that splits in the republican movement had been "a bad thing for the country".

Fitzsimons contacted the Belfast Telegraph by phone, saying 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.

The PSNI was involved in providing background on him for the Italian investigators. Their main target was the 'Ndraghenta, now the most powerful crime organisation in Italy and organised in families, much 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.

"If the PSNI or the Italian authorities want to see my bank details they are welcome. My life is an open book and so are my bank accounts. I want to arrange it through my solicitor and I want you to make it clear, through you, that I am not avoiding this issue."

Fitzsimons says 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, he was jailed for bombing the Woodburn House Hotel in Belfast in 1971. He lived in Calabria, the 'Ndraghenta's homeland, from 2006 until 2012, but said he had no dealings with them.

Fitzsimons said the money he used in Italy came from the sale of a garage and shops on Belfast's Stewartstown Road which netted him more than £2m in 2006. Fitzsimons transferred £1m of it to Calabria to take part in the beachfront developments.

He had been put in touch with Antonio Cuppre, a developer with Gabetti, a major estate agency in Southern Italy. "It was all above board, there were no meetings in corners," he said. Fitzsimons set up a company called VFI to promote Mr Cuppre's Jewel of the Sea development and, in 2009, he won an award for services to tourism. He now travels the world promoting high end beachfront properties in Calabria and Tunisia.

His solicitor Dan McGuinness said: "Harry was in Italy three times since November, most recently in January, and was not approached by the police. He was here in Belfast last month. I have no reason to think what he is saying is wrong.

"I have been dealing with him for eight years and in that time there have been no issues with the police in Northern Ireland."

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