Court blow for alleged mafia boss

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vito dec 21 REUTERS Italian suspect Vito Roberto Palazzolo, 65, arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok.

Cape Town - The son of alleged Sicilian Mafia suspect Vito Palazzolo says his family will appeal a Thai court’s decision to extradite his father to Italy where he has been sentenced in absentia for his Mafia associations.

Palazzolo’s son, Christian von Palace, based in Franschhoek, told the Cape Argus that the cases against his father had “disrupted” his family life and saddened them.

He was speaking shortly after it was announced that his father would be deported to serve a nine-year prison term in Italy.

Palazzolo, 65, was sentenced in absentia by an Italian court in 2009 to nine years in jail for association with the Mafia, and had been living in South Africa under the name Robert von Palace Kolbatschenko before travelling to Thailand, where he was arrested earlier this year.

He is a naturalised South African citizen who once lived in the Western Cape.

In South Africa, Palazzolo was seen as a major businessman with interests in mineral water, security, diamonds and ostrich farming.

Palazzolo, who is accused of being a leading member of the Cosa Nostra Sicilian Mafia, was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on March 30 by Interpol.

A hearing followed but Von Palace said, although he was not surprised by the outcome, the process was flawed.

He said that his father was not given a fair opportunity to defend himself and that witnesses and his lawyer were not allowed to complete their case.

They also had problems with the interpreter, Von Palace added.

“It (the hearing) was just a little bit of a show… I think we will definitely appeal for a more fair hearing and take it from there,” Von Palace said.

Under Thai law, Palazzolo is entitled to file an appeal within 30 days.

An official at the Bangkok Criminal Court told AFP on Thursday that the court ruled Palazzolo should be extradited and that “his case was not political as it’s organised crime and money laundering”.

Palazzolo’s South African lawyer, Norman Snitcher, said he was aware of the court’s order but could not elaborate on the proceedings because he was not in Bangkok, adding that the Palazzolo family was in distress.

Von Palace said the past few years had been difficult for his family, especially seeing the conditions under which his father was incarcerated.

He said his father’s health was good “under the circumstances”.

“I last saw my father two weeks ago. Under the circumstances, he is alright. In terms of his health, he has no major ailments but he takes his medication regularly,” Von Palace said.

Von Palace said earlier in court papers that his father had prostate cancer, which was in remission, and a heart condition for which he required daily medication.

He said relatives would continue to support Palazzolo in court and prison. “He has a proper bed now. That’s a great improvement on sleeping on the floor with 13 other people.”

Former organised crime unit investigating officer Abramn Smith said the decision to extradite him was a huge victory.

Smith said Palazollo had been under investigation for 25 years adding that he gave evidence against him in an Italian court in 2005.

Four years later, Palazollo was sentenced in absentia to nine years behind bars.

“Justice has prevailed and my message to other law enforcement officers is to never give up and remember that money can’t buy back your integrity,” Smith said.

In the Italian judgment, handed down in Palazzolo’s 2006 trial in Palermo, Sicily, he was described as enjoying personal “relationships of great trust and secrecy with a number of high-ranking Mafia bosses”.

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Cape Argus


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