Vito Palazzolo was convicted in Sicily for Mafia links.

Caryn Dolley

AN ARREST warrant issued in Italy three decades ago for Vito Palazzolo has come back to haunt him.

It led to his being taken into custody at Bangkok airport on Saturday.

Palazzolo, 64, was convicted in Italy for his association with the Sicilian Mafia, lived in South Africa for years, at one stage basing himself in the Western Cape. He entered into business ventures here. It is understood he recently travelled to Hong Kong.

On Saturday he flew from Hong Kong to Thailand, where he was arrested. Reports have said he was using a South African passport.

South Africa’s ambassador to Thailand, Ruby Marks, said she had tried to meet Palazzolo and to see his passport to verify if it was South African, but the Thai authorities had refused. She would meet Palazzolo this morning at the Thai detention facility where he was being held.

“Then we will see how we will proceed. At the moment, we’re just focusing on whether he was carrying a South African passport. If so, we will treat him as a South African in distress and offer him normal consular services,” Marks said.

She said Palazzolo had been on an Interpol wanted list. “It has to do with an arrest warrant issued by an Italian authority 30 years ago.”

Marks was unable to provide details about the warrant.

National police spokesman Vish

Naidoo said Palazzolo had not been under investigation by the SAPS and had not been arrested for any case linked to this country.

The arrest made international headlines, with press reports saying Sicilian police had tracked Palazzolo by following him and some of his relatives on Facebook.

The information had been passed on to Thai authorities.

A website about Palazzolo, vrpalazzolo.com, says he was born in Terrasini, Sicily in 1947 and settled in South Africa when he was 39.

It referred to a farm he owned in Franschhoek.

It said that four years before settling here, he became chairman of Consultfin SA, the financial services arm of a major Swiss bank. He realised funds he was dealing with “belonged to the Mafia”.

In 1984 he was arrested and sentenced to roughly three years jail in Lugano, Switzerland. While out on parole, he reportedly fled to South Africa.

The website said Palazzolo had also been implicated in “The Pizza Connection” – which involved the Mafia selling heroin through New York pizza parlours.

“I have been accused of many things, from running guns for the apartheid regime ... to administering the Mafia’s financial empire (from my home in Franschhoek!) in Venezuela ... and the Far East. The sheer scale of it is comically absurd,” it said.

Six years ago Palazzolo was sentenced in absentia in Italy to nine years in jail for his association with the Mafia.

The Western Cape High Court later denied a request for his extradition to Italy on the grounds that being a member of or colluding with the Mafia were not crimes under South African law.

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