Anti-money laundering operation proves links between Italian ‘Ndrangheta and IRA


On Tuesday Italian finance police (Guardia di Finanza) arrested 20 suspected affiliates to ‘Ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian mafia, in an anti-Mafia police operation called “Metropolis”. According to the veteran anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who led the investigation, the “Metropolis” inquiry is “the most important investigation into money laundering in Italy in the last 10 years”. The operation was carried out in Italy, the UK and Spain and involved the Irish terrorist group IRA. The arrested are believed to belong to the clans Morabito and Aquino of Reggio Calabria province.


The police investigation, as reported by the Financial Times, “has tracked the evolution of the ‘Ndrangheta into an extensive business network reinvesting the profits from narcotics, arms trafficking and other sources estimated at ten billions of euros a year”. Police discovered that members of ‘Ndrangheta and Spanish businessmen in 2005 had created a sort of « joint venture » to build resorts and luxury residences on some of the most beautiful and undeveloped beaches of Calabria.


“Metropolis” allowed police to seize assets worth 450 million euros. Among the assets sequestered are 12 property development companies and 17 to–let holiday resorts, some of them half-built, all along the Ionian coast of Calabria. As part of the operation, searches were also carried out in Alicante in southern Spain. The operation started five years ago to track the ‘Ndrangheta investments in tourism and property in the far south of Italy.


Police officers made clear that ‘Ndrangheta through “the force of Mafia intimidation” managed to obtain the land and build the resorts “through a complex network of Italian and foreign companies”. In order to reinvest the profits from drug and arms trafficking and other criminal sources, estimated at ten of billions of euros a year, ‘Ndrangheta bosses got round planning regulations by corrupting local politicians. When the tourist resorts were ready they were put on the international market for foreign buyers. It is worth highlighting that vast areas of the Italian coastline have been ruined by inappropriate and ugly concrete development often carried out with mafia organizations’ investment.

The report of the Italian intelligence services for the year 2012 states that “intelligence activity highlights the tendency of ‘Ndrangheta to project itself abroad, in European and extra-European countries, with investments and economic interests always more diversified (public building, restaurant industry, tourist and hotel industry, garbage industry, renewable energies, gambling)”. This tendency has allowed the Calabrian mafia to build strong ties with other organized crime and even terrorist organizations.


The most striking aspect revealed by the “Metropolis” inquiry is the link developed with the Irish Real IRA. Italian prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant for Heny James Fitzsimons, a 63-year-old from Belfast. Nicola Gratteri described him as “the middle-man delegated by the IRA to recycle the proceeds of terrorist activities and to reinvest the financial resources of the movement”. Fitzsimons, now allegedly on the run in an African country, was jailed for 15 years in 1973 after blowing up the Woodburn House Hotel in Belfast and the Collin Glenn bacon factory where he had worked in November 1971. He was described by British security services as one of the most active officers in the Provisional IRA during the 1971 bombing campaign. According to Irish and British media he was often spotted in the past in the company of Michael McKewitt, currently serving a 20-year sentence at a maximum security prison, a former Provisional IRA senior leader who set up the splinter dissident republican group the Real IRA.


The Real IRA and other terrorist groups are believed to be heavily involved in criminal activities, such as cigarette and diesel smuggling and robberies. The Provisional IRA is thought to be behind a large robbery of £26.5 million on the Northern Bank in Belfast in 2004 and most of the proceeds have never been recovered. Fitzsimons runs a company called VFI Overseas Property.


According to the Italian investigators, Fitzsimons created a system of money laundering based on offshore bank accounts in several countries. The aim of the system was to make money untraceable. Since 2007 he would have invested at least 12 million Euros with an entrepreneur linked to the ‘Ndrangheta clans in the construction of the resort called ‘Gioiello del Mare’ or Jewel of the Sea, in the seaside town of Brancaleone. Investigators think that the money invested was certainly of criminal origin. International media reported that its company won the European architecture award in 2009 for its Calypso Lagoon development at Le Castella, a five-star resort in Calabria.


Beyond the international links that ‘Ndrangheta has been able to develop, the operation shows an important characteristic of this dangerous organized crime: the capacity of carrying out criminal activities behind a screen of juridical subjects from the legal business community. This money laundering operation is, as said by the Italian judge Massimo Minniti, “the result of the combination between massive influx of outside capital and, above all, the ability of criminal organizations to govern and ‘control’ the territory, thus guaranteeing the purchase of land and the development of projects”.


The Italian finance police said in a statement that “this is a new ‘Ndrangheta entrepreneurship, a new way of ‘doing Mafia’ where there is no shooting or killing, but where affiliation derives only from one matrix: money. What emerges is an international and modern ‘Ndrangheta, with a complex structure and a colonizing and expansionist philosophy”.


Police believe that by hiring local people in the resorts and creating a commercial industry with the arrival of foreigners, mainly buyers of the tourist resorts, the criminal organization would have been able to consolidate its social consent in a territory hit by the economic crisis.


The financial power of the Calabrian mafia and its international links prove the need to build a cross-border anti-mafia legislation, as proposed by Sonia Alfano, the Chair of the Special Committee on Organized Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering of the European Parliament. This common legislation would enable police forces to act more effectively against an organized crime organization, that not only is present in the far south of Italy but threatens, with its criminal activities, all EU countries.


According to the Italian National Anti-Mafia Directorate, ‘Ndrangheta earns 27 billion euros a year from drugs alone in the whole of the European Union. U. S. experts ranked this criminal multinational fourth in the list of the world's most dangerous organizations, after Al Qaeda, the PKK and the Mexican narco- traffickers.


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