Durban - Suspected Mafia kingpin Vito Palazzolo is a person of interest in a major money laundering investigation linked to an animal shelter outside Plettenberg Bay – this despite him being in an Italian jail.
Palazzolo, 66, is a naturalised South African citizen who for years lived in the Western Cape. In 2009, he was in absentia sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment by an Italian court for having an association with the Mafia, and has been in jail for more than two-and-a-half years.
He was arrested in Thailand on an Interpol red notice – one of the international police organisation’s tools for tracking fugitives – as he was travelling back to South Africa in 2012.
Palazzolo has been held in jail since then, first in Thailand, then in Italy, where it has been reported he has recently started speaking out about the Mafia and providing prosecutors with information about international money laundering.
Weekend Argus has established that despite his detention, Palazzolo’s name has cropped up in two probes being conducted by a team of independent criminal investigators. Chad Thomas of IRS Forensic Investigations confirmed that Palazzolo was “a person of interest” in two probes.
He said: “We are investigating a case involving an alleged multimillion fraud involving a Namibian company, as well as allegations involving alleged money laundering linked to an animal rehabilitation non-profit organisation based in the Western Cape. To this end, we have opened a criminal case in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act with the Plettenberg Bay SAPS.”
Thomas declined to provide details as he did not want to compromise the case.
This week police acknowledged the Plettenberg Bay case.
Weekend Argus understands the Namibian business involves a distribution and trading company, and its directors are linked to the animal organisation.
This week, Palazzolo’s Franschhoek-based son, Christian von Palace, did not respond to queries. Palazzolo was extradited to Italy about a year ago.
Recently Italian media publications reported that Palazzolo, who had ties with high-ranking South Africans, had agreed to answer questions from prosecutors during interrogations in prison and that it could lead to investigators seizing e500 million (R7 billion) from one of his associates.
An article said he had not signed any agreement with the Italian state and had apparently simply started providing information. Palazzolo had lived in South Africa for more than two decades before his arrest in Thailand.
In 1982, Palazzolo was offered the chairmanship for Consultfin SA, the financial services arm of one of the three major Swiss banks, in Lugano, Switzerland. Two years later, Italy requested his extradition and issued an arrest warrant for him for alleged association with the Mafia.
This was apparently for his alleged role in the Pizza Connection, where the Mafia sold heroin through New York pizza parlours, a connection Palazzolo has consistently denied.
In 1986, Palazzolo was convicted in Lugano, reportedly for money laundering, and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.
While on a 36-hour parole stint, granted by Swiss prison authorities so he could spend Christmas with his family, Palazzolo escaped to South Africa.