Ex-IRA man Henry ‘Harry’ Fitzsimons beats Mafia fraud extradition

Harry Fitzsimons. ''Photo: BBC
Harry Fitzsimons. ''Photo: BBC

A former IRA bomber wanted in Italy for questioning over an alleged Mafia-linked £390 million fraud has walked free from a Belfast court.

Henry ‘Harry’ Fitzsimons from the Andersonstown area was arrested at a Belfast police station yesterday morning by virtue of a European arrest warrant.

At an extradition hearing in Laganside court, Judge Patricia Smyth heard that Italian financial authorities wished to question Mr Fitzsimons about the offences of “criminal association” and “the fraudulent transfer of moveables”.

The information accompanying the warrant alleged the former taxi company owner could help with their inquiries into “a huge international fraud,” said to have been committed through international law firms and agencies.

In 2013, Mr Fitzsimons was extradited from Senegal to Italy for questioning after Italian police claimed to have broken up an organised crime network in the Calabria region in the south of the country. At that time, Mr Fitzsimons claimed that he was legitimately involved in property development in the region – including the Jewel of the Sea holiday village he was promoting through his company VFI Overseas Property.

The 66-year-old denied having any connection with the notorious Ndrangheta Mafia group and, in a statement released through his solicitor, he said he “categorically denies any involvement with the Mafia as has been alleged by the Italian police and totally refutes any involvement in any money laundering activities on behalf of the IRA or any other illegal organisation”.

Mr Fitzsimons – who was convicted of involvement in the IRA bombing of the Woodbourne Hotel in west Belfast in the early 1970s – yesterday listened attentively in the dock as the evidence presented by the Italian authorities was read out to the court.

His barrister said that as a result of spending eight-and-a-half months in an Italian prison, Mr Fitzsimons had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and would not consent to extradition. He said that on this occasion, the evidence provided by the Italians failed to sufficiently specify the alleged role of his client in the criminal enterprise.

The barrister acting on behalf of the Italian authorities, Stephen Ritchie, said he accepted there were shortcomings in the European arrest warrant regarding its requirement to satisfy the terms of extradition.

Mr Ritchie added that he considered the information provided “somewhat vague”.

Having retired to consult the relevant legislation, Justice Smyth returned to tell Mr Fitzsimons he was free to go.

She said: “The information is couched in vague terms. I am satisfied that the information is inadequate.”

Mr Fitzsimons was immediately released from the dock and was hugged and congratulated by family members sitting behind in the public gallery.

In 2013 Mr Fitzsimons told the Andersonsown News he “had nothing to hide”.

He said: “There have been attempts to use my republican past to blacken this project but, as a strong supporter of the peace process, I can state that I am proud of my past and that there is no link with any organisation to this development.”