Sunday, 22 July 2018

Italian police investigating money laundering in Prague

ČTK |
13 March 2018

Prague, March 12 (CTK) - The Italian Prosecutor's Office is investigating former UniCredit bank manager Massimiliano Fossati along with real estate businessman Claudio Leo Personnettaz on suspicion of assisting in money laundering in Prague, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) wrote on Monday.

The firms controlled by Personnettaz were buying luxurious buildings in the centre of Prague, in Narodni street, near Old Town Square and below Prague Castle. Italian detectives came across him when looking into the activities of ’Ndrangheta mafia in northern Italy, MfD writes.

The investigation has not resulted in any charges yet.

The Italian-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CAMIC) expressed surprise at and doubts about the MfD's text, saying it was based on an article published in the Italian press a few months ago.

"The astonishment is caused by what has been added in the Czech version, that is the references to mafia organisations, since the Italian article only wrote about suspicions of profits concealed from the Italian tax offices," the chamber said in a press release on Monday.

Any generalisation in this respect may harm Italian-Czech firms and the whole Italian community in Prague and in the Czech Republic, it added.

The Czech media started to focus on the activities of ’Ndrangheta after the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, who were shot dead about two weeks ago. He was writing about business activities of Italian families from Calabria in eastern Slovakia.

Apart from Fossati, who headed the risk section in the UniCredit banking group until last year, the Italian financial police are interested in Edo Chatel from the Prague business circles.

When Fossati helped launder money in Prague, his bank provided hundreds of millions of crowns for Personnettaz's real estate business, MfD wrote, referring to Italian investigators. Besides, the UniCredit investment fund sold two hotels in the centre of Prague, Golden Crown and Sunrise, to firms around Personnettaz.

In the past, Fossati was a member of the Zivnostenska banka bank board and after it ended its operation, he was in the board of UniCredit Bank. He was also a partner in one of the firms in which Personnettaz was an executive.

Last July, Fossati took some time off in the bank to defend his reputation.

Personnettaz refused to comment on the ongoing investigation, MfD writes.

Chatel called the suspicion "unbelievable" in the Italian daily La Stampa.

Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova, who cooperated with Kuciak and now she lives under police protection, told the Respekt weekly that ’Ndrangheta was really operating in the Czech Republic.

It is primarily controlling its drug deals in rich West European countries from the relatively quiet Czech Republic. Some mafia cells, comprised of several dozen active members, are working in the country, Holcova said. Moreover, the mafia members from Calabria are legalising their profits through various projects that are legal at first sight, she added.

"We worked on particular cases connected with tax frauds and trafficking in cocaine. Italians were involved in them. However, we found out that they rather had Czech people working for them here," Robert Slachta, former chief of the anti-mafia squad, told Respekt.

The Czech intelligence services have no information about the penetration of mafia into politics.

Daily Pravo reported last week about people linked to ’Ndrangheta running business in the Czech Republic.

Francesco Bonavita, head of one of the clans, who is charged with tax frauds and criminal conspiracy in Italy, is listed as a co-owner of the Kala Tours travel agency in Sokolov, west Bohemia, in the Czech register of companies. The firm does not operate any more, the other owners said.

’Ndrangheta member Antonio Forastefano has established La Calabrisella firm in Olomouc, north Moravia, which is in liquidation now, Pravo wrote.

Czech police detained Bonavita in Prague where he was hiding from the Italian authorities in July 2016, while Forastefano was arrested in Olomouc in 1998, on the basis of an Italian warrant for his arrest.

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