EXCLUSIVE: THIS is the former republican bomber turned property developer wanted for questioning by Italian police probing a multi-million pound Mafia and IRA money laundering racket.
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 on Tuesday morning.
However, on Tuesday night, a solicitor for Harry Fitzsimons denied reports that his client was arrested in Italy.
Now on Wednesday, 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 are believed to have tracked him through a passport to Africa.
On Tuesday, Italian police named him as a suspect, saying he had a convicted for an IRA bombing offence.
The solicitor for Mr Fitzsimons has 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.