Hawks target Palazzolo’s mafia millions

2011-11-05 15:08

Alleged fugitive Mafia financier Vito Palazzolo is being targeted by South African law enforcement officials who are preparing to seize more than a R100 million in assets they claim are the proceeds of laundered money.

Sicilian-born Palazzolo – now a wealthy businessman based in South Africa – has over the last 20 years been the subject of multiple money laundering, fraud and corruption charges but has never been successfully prosecuted in this country.

He has been convicted in absentia of Mafia associations in Italy and sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence. He was also sentenced to a three-year prison term for violations of the federal law on narcotics in Switzerland.

He was indicted in the famous Pizza Connection trials in the US where he was implicated in involvement of laundering some $1.5 billion (about R11.8  billion) from heroin sales involving the mafia in the US.

Palazzolo fled to South Africa from Switzerland while on a short parole and got citizenship in the then-Ciskei. He has resisted six extradition attempts since.

This time, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) believe they’ve got their man. They have called for the assistance of the American authorities who indicted Palazzolo in the 1980s for alleged complicity in the Pizza Connection mafia operation.

Palazzolo this week dismissed the new threat against him and threatened the authorities with “very large claims for damages”.

He claimed the govern-ment’s “unlawful persecution” of him was unabated and that he would turn to the courts for protection.

Palazzolo’s Ciskei nationality changed to South African citizenship in the 1990s and he beat an attempt to prosecute him for aquiring his citizenship falsely.

City Press has confirmed that the Hawks are investigating Palazzolo for money laundering while the Asset Forfeiture Unit has conducted an intensive search of his possessions and properties in order to attach them. Neither the Hawks nor the NPA would comment this week on the investigation and the American justice depart-ment did not respond to enquiries either.

But City Press has established from several sources that the Hawks and the NPA believe that when Palazzolo came to South Africa in the 1980s, he brought at least R22 million into the country, most of which they regard as the proceeds of crime, allegedly acquired through money laundering activities.

Although Palazzolo has no assets in his name in South Africa, the AFU has determined that entities connected to him have accumulated wealth of more than R100 million that can be linked to the money initially brought into the country.

Palazzolo furnished documents to City Press this week to prove that the money he had brought into the country was legal, that he has no association with the Sicilian Mafia and that the Italians are persecuting him.

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