FBME Tanzania linked to Italian mafia dirty money scandal

Tanzania security agencies are investigating how millions of euros from an Italian political party were transferred into the country through a foreign commercial bank and invested in the country.

Police have learnt that around 10 million euros ($13 million) were transferred to Tanzania in dubious circumstances. Information made available last week from Italy indicates that the treasurer of the Northern League political party (which is allied to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi), Francesco Belsito, is under investigation for fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.

Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (the financial unit of the tax police in Rome) is presently investigating a questionable 4.5 million euro ($5.9 million) transfer to Tanzania, while 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million) were sent to Cyprus and 1 million euros ($1.3 million) were invested in Norway Crowns.

Investigation by The EastAfrican in Dar es Salaam showed that the money in question was sent to Tanzania through Federal Bank of the Middle East (FBME) in Cyprus and then to FBME Bank in Tanzania. Mr Belsito was apparently the one who deposited the money in the Tanzania bank.

Tanzania’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is investigating the case on suspicion of embezzlement, aggravated fraud committed against the state and money laundering.

The chief prosecutor of Milan, Edmondo Bruti Liberati, told The EastAfrican that three judicial offices, co-ordinated by Milan assistant public prosecutor Alfredo Robledo and public prosecutors Roberto Pellicano and Paolo Filippini, were investigating the case alongside the financial police.

The other investigators include prosecutors Henry John Woodcock and Vincenzo Piscitelli for Naples with the Carabinieri from the NOE ecological operational unit; Reggio Calabria prosecutor Giuseppe Lombardo with police officers from the DIA intelligence unit are investigating possible financial fraud on cheques going back and forth from Italy to FBME Bank in Tanzania.

Allegations

Mr Liberati said that the investigators are investigating the Northern League over a raft of charges of financial irregularities, fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering. The EastAfrican has been exclusively informed that some of the more explosive allegations have to do with links to a Tanzanian businessman who is in close contact with members of the De Stefano family, one of the most powerful clans in the ‘Ndrangheta, the organised crime syndicate based in Calabria, the toe of Italy.

Indeed, the investments made in Cyprus and in Tanzania are being examined for possible links to organised crime. According to Mr Liberati, all the transactions were done in the last week of December 2011.

Mr Liberati said the investigators started their investigation in April this year following allegations that Umberto Bossi, the charismatic leader of Italy’s Northern League, used taxpayers’ money to pay for improvements to his house and for travel, dinners and hotel accommodation for his children.

“The claims, based on evidence collected through wiretaps, came to light in a judicial warrant issued for the search of the party’s headquarters in Milan,” said Mr Liberati.

The money transferred to the FBME Bank in Tanzania was frozen and then sent back to Italy when the FIU and the Bank of Tanzania (BoT), which monitors foreign currency transactions, became suspicious of the large amount of money.

Investigators suspect the money was meant for buying diamonds, as one of the suspects was found to have diamonds from Tanzania at his home in Italy.

The investigators further said that the Italian mafia approached the Tanzania government proposing to invest $5.9 million in small scale mining for diamonds, but the government rejected the offer.

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