Italian police are hunting a former republican bomber in connection with a mafia-style crime network with links to the IRA.
The crime syndicate is involved in a €450m (£390) money laundering operation and property scam.
The Italians say they are seeking Henry Fitzsimons who has been a successful builder and property developer in southern Italy.
Mr Fitzsimons (63) from Belfast has lived in Italy since 2007 where he started an award-winning property company specialising in luxury developments.
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.
While the claims of IRA involvement and Mr Fitzsimons’ account will be of local interest here, the centrepiece of the investigation is the ‘Ndrangheta crime network.
This group has now supplanted the Sicilian mafia as the most powerful crime group in Italy.
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 pounced, seizing an estimated €450m (£390m) in assets.
A total of 16 people were arrested in co-ordinated raids but Mr Fitzsimons was not found as he is believed to be at large in Africa.