Tommaso Buscetta, Sicilian Mafia Pizza Connection
Rome. A fugitive Italian banker implicated in the “Pizza Connection” drug and money laundering trial has been detained in Thailand after Italian authorities tracked his whereabouts on Facebook.
Italy’s highest court in 2009 upheld the 2006 conviction and nine-year prison sentence against Vito Roberto Palazzolo for Mafia association.
Prosecutors allege that while working in Switzerland as a banker, Palazzolo laundered money for some of Italy’s top mobsters, a charge he denies
Palazzolo’s lawyer, Baldassare Lauria, said on Saturday his client, now a South African citizen, had been detained by Thai police at Bangkok’s airport on an Italian extradition request. The lawyer said his client plans to fight extradition.
Thai police were tipped off to Palazzolo’s whereabouts by Sicilian carabinieri agents (National Military police) who had been monitoring Facebook and other social media postings by Palazzolo and his family, the carabinieri said in a statement.
The “Pizza Connection” investigation broke a $1.6 billion heroin and cocaine smuggling operation that used New York pizzerias as fronts from 1975 until 1984.
Palazzolo acknowledges that in 1982 while working as a banker in Switzerland he returned about $6 million in funds to the Mafia after being threatened by the mob. He said he was made a scapegoat in the “Pizza Connection” case since he was a lone Sicilian working in Swiss banks that were accused of laundering drug money for the mob.
The carabinieri said in a statement that the “Pizza Connection” probe “showed the central role of the Sicilian Mafia in the refining and trafficking of heroin, the proceeds of which were largely laundered by Palazzolo.”
Palazzolo changed his name to Robert von Palace Kolbatschenko in the 1990s but denied it was to sidestep the law.