By Tileni Mongudhi | 6 March 2015
PROMINENT architect and businessman Henry Ferdinand (Rynand) Mudge has ties with an Italian who has been connected to the Sicilian Mafia, The Namibian has learned.
Mudge, who is the namesake and cousin of Republican Party president Henk Mudge, is a friend and business partner of convicted mafioso Vito Roberto Palazzolo, also known as Robert von Palace Kolbatschenko, Stelio Domenico Frapolli, or Vito Rosario Palazzolo.
Mudge has confirmed the relationship with Palazzolo, but is convinced that the latter is a victim of the Italian Secret Service and other clandestine international organisations. He further says he believes in his friend Palazzolo’s innocence, adding that the Italian was made a scapegoat simply because he hails from Sicily.
Mudge also has a relationship with an Italian close associate of Palazzolo who had a run-in with the law at least on one occasion. The said associate is Stefano Roma, who is believed to have been introduced to Namibia by Palazzolo.
Little is known about Roma in Namibia apart from the fact that he has disappeared from the scene since 2013, following Palazzolo’s arrest in Thailand.
The Namibian’s investigations uncovered that Mudge is Palazzolo’s partner in at least one business venture, Southern Cross Wilderness Close Corporation.The entity was registered in 2009. Later that year the close corporation acquired a 8 178 hectare farm for N$4,2 million. The farm in question used to be known as Suiderkruis, but has been renamed Southern Cross. It is a portion of farm Kameelhof, which is south-west of Maltahöhe and in the area of Wolwedans.
North of farm Southern Cross’ fence is the farm Vrede, which Mudge co-owns with Roma. The two were 50/50 partners in the close corporation in 2009 when it was registered, but this was amended in 2012. Roma is currently the sole owner of the entity, on paper at least. Those in the know say Mudge is still involved in running both farms.
Mudge confirmed the business relationships and admitted that it was Palazzolo who introduced Roma to him.
He said he took an interest in doing business with the Italians because the ventures would be “matching foreign funding with local opportunity and expertise. I took an interest in the venture because it made good business sense, and all legal procedures, including the state waiver, were duly followed.”
Palazzolo arrived in Namibia around 2006, after staving off extradition attempts from South Africa for more than 20 years. He was arrested in March 2012 while on holiday in Thailand, extradited to Italy in December 2013, and is currently serving a nine-year prison term for Mafia–related offences.
Italian authorities believed Palazzolo is a high-ranking member of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily. Apart from being an Italian citizen, he has also obtained South African citizenship. It was also reported that Palazzolo was listed by the FBI as one of the top 7 most-wanted Mafia leaders. In 1985 he was placed on the Italian interior ministry’s list of 30 most–wanted fugitives.
Italian government sources said that for about three decades Palazzolo was wanted on allegations of Mafia association, Mafia-related killings and drug trafficking. In 1986 he escaped from Switzerland after he was sentenced for violating that country’s drug laws; he reappeared in South Africa.
The Italian authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest five years later, in the hope that Palazzolo would be extradited to that country once he was arrested. Another warrant for his arrest was issued in 1997 after the Italian authorities linked him to the Mafia.
In 2006 a court in Palermo in Sicily sentenced Palazzolo to nine years’ imprisonment after convicting him, in absentia, on a charge of”participation in a Mafia type association”. Prosecutors alleged that while working in Switzerland as a banker, Palazzolo laundered moneyfor some of Italy’s top mobsters. The Italian Supreme Court upheld his conviction and nine-year sentence in 2009.
Mudge said he knew about Palazzolo’s legal woes. He said that throughout the years of their friendship Palazzolo was appealing against his sentence and was in the process of taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights because he felt he did not get a fair trial in Switzerland; he also felt that the Palermo conviction amounted to legal double jeopardy, because it was based on the Switzerland conviction.
“There never was anything in my dealings with him both professional and private that suggested he is anything but just that: a banker who brokered several major investments in Namibia,” Mudge said to The Namibian in an email response.
In Namibia little is known about Stefano Roma. The Namibian understands that he is currently based in the United Kingdom. Apart from his farming business with Mudge, he is linked to Preview Energy Resources, a business in the mining sector, which is wholly owned by a Swiss registered company, Junbreeze Holdings SA.
It is believed that Roma is the owner of Junbreeze. Other directors of Preview Energy Resources are Francesco Marotta (Italian), Kaspar Baenziger, Gregorious Gordon Goeieman, Zacharias Nefungo Nujoma and Meriam Onesmus (all Namibian).
Checks with Italian authorities revealed that Roma was charged with insider trading and market manipulation by the public prosecutor’s office in Rome in 2010.
A court in Rome acquitted him of the charges in 2012. The Namibian could not track Roma down; however, sources said he does attend meetings related to Preview Energy Resources in the United Kingdom.