House of cards: It all came down for Italian fugitives

Mario Mele (in handcuffs) when he was nabbed by police on March 31, 2017. He was later deported to Italy. [Photo:Kelvin Karani, Standard]

For weeks now, residents of Diani in Kwale County and Mtwapa and Malindi in Kilifi County have been enthralled by revelations that fugitives have lived in their midst for years.

The fact that they have been hiding in plain view of State security agencies has raised questions regarding who has been protecting them or securing their stay. Even more baffling is why they were eventually detained and who gave the order for their capture?

But, whatever the case may be, the proverbial long arm of the law did eventually catch up with Mario Mele, 56, Leone Alberto Fulvio, 68, and Stefano Poli, 70. The three were deported to Italy where authorities claim they face prosecution and jail for past crimes.

Initially, there were reports that the three had vanished while in police cells, prompting their lawyers to apply for their physical production in court. It later turned out that they were no longer in the country.

Red notice

“These three Italians have been on the Interpol Red Notice for their involvement in various forms of organised crime,” said Coast Regional police commander Joseph Tuimur.

Mario was born in Nuoro, Italy and arrived in Kenya in 2012. He owns the world-class Pata Pata restaurant and Mario’s Budha Club in Malindi.

He is alleged to have escaped law enforcement in Italy, leaving behind a trial where he was charged with tax evasion and fraudulent bankruptcy amounting to 17 million Euros. But police sources indicate that the man who lives alone in the exclusive Casuarina neighbourhood in Malindi, has dutifully travelled to Italy to “attend to his legal problems”.

Malindi police, however, refuse to discuss this matter. Reports indicate they were not involved in Mario’s March 29 arrest for the squad that made the arrests involved Flying Squad, Interpol and foreign agents who came from Nairobi. Sources indicate local police were kept out of the loop for fear of compromising the operation.

Stefano’s biodata is scanty but reports indicate he has lived in Malindi and Diani since 2016 while being on the run from a 10-year jail term.

“He was born on August 14, 1946 and was sentenced to 10 years for fiscal fraud associated with filing bankruptcy then destroying records,” the source said.

A similar name, however, has been registered at the Environment and Land court in Malindi under civil case number 244 of 2016.

Under the case file, Stefano Poli is the applicant against one Ashiono Donald Shibachi. Details of the case are not clear but the matter failed to proceed on October 3 last year.

It is not clear if this is the same Stefano that was paraded by police in Mombasa weeks ago.

Leone’s life and times on the Kenyan coast is perhaps the most intriguing indictment of the Kenyan security, immigration systems and other agencies.

For over two decades Leone has lived in Mtwapa, raised a family, engaged in trade and received State commendation, including a certificate of tax compliance, good conduct and firearms licence from the police. This notwithstanding that he had an international arrest warrant in place since 1997.

A convicted felon, Leone was first unveiled to the public late last year when an Interpol official applied to the magistrate’s court in Mombasa for his extradition to Italy.

Leone fled Italy to escape serving an eight-year jail term imposed in 1992. He landed on the Kenyan coast in 1993 where he established a home, according to documents brought to court.

The documents show that Leone holds a Kenyan Identity Card and firearm issued by Kenyan authorities in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

These documents show that Leone was convicted of a drug offense in Torino, Italy on June 22, 1992 but was not placed in prison because he was not in court during sentencing. His conviction was based on an investigation that began on May 17, 1983 when Italian police, allegedly, found him with drugs including pure heroin.

A warrant for his arrest was, subsequently, issued by authorities in Genoa, Italy on January 29, 2007 and circulated throughout the European Union EU, by which time Leone was living in Kenya.

Leone who has lived peacefully in Mtwapa, Kilifi county, passing as a law abiding citizen and resident of Kisauni in Mombasa was arrested on September 27 last year. This was after his criminal past was exposed by Interpol and Italian prosecutors who wanted him extradited to Torino, Italy to start serving his jail term handed down on January 29, 1992.

The conduct by Kenyan police and immigration officials became a matter of concern following revelations that once he fled into Kenya in 1993, he was able to renounce his Italian citizenship on December 15, 2009 becoming a Kenyan citizen and even acquired a national identity card.

Clean record

A certificate of good conduct issued to Leone on January 20 last year states that the Kenyan Directorate of Criminal Investigations issued it after his fingerprints were found to not be attached to any criminal record in their database.

However, an affidavit sworn on October 5 last year by Chief Inspector of Police John Lelei attached to Interpol in Nairobi stated: “In the course of my duties at Interpol bureau in Nairobi, I got information that one Alberto Fulvio was wanted in Italy and a Red Notice had been published in the Interpol website.”

Lelei swore that the Red Notice was published on January 29, 2016 and also disclosed that: “The process of his naturalisation as a Kenyan citizen and subsequent issuance of National ID no 28622187 was under active investigation to establish whether any crimes were committed in issuance of the same.”

A separate document also brought to court showed that the Kenya Revenue Authority certified Leone as tax compliant and granted him a certificate on February 2, 2016 with a postal address in Ukunda, Kwale.