A place in the Calabrian sun
Irish investors in a holiday development in southern Italy learned this week of alleged mafia and IRA involvment in the scheme, which remains unfinished
Róisín Adams and her husband invested in two apartments in Calabria, Italy, in 2007. They hoped it would ensure they had the finances to send the youngest of their three children, then 10, to university when the time came.
The investment turned into a nightmare, however, that this week was further compounded with accusations of involvement of the Mafia and the IRA in the property scheme. The fallout from the investment has had a hugely negative effect on Róisín Adams, who has had many sleepless nights as a result.
It all began with an advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph about a planned development in southern Italy on the edge of the Mediterranean. The estate agent involved was the well-established Ulster Property Sales group. The couple made their decision carefully: they went to Calabria in March 2007 to see the site of the proposed Jewel in the Sea (Gioiello Del Mare) development. “It was absolutely beautiful, stunning. The apartments were to be built on an elevated site overlooking the sea, in a totally unspoiled area. At the time we visited it was just meadows and wild flowers.”
Adams says they took comfort from the fact that the promoter involved, VFI Property, was run by a man from Northern Ireland, Harry Fitzsimons. He had an office in Calabria, and her husband spoke with him on the phone. A woman from Manchester who was working with VFI at the time met the couple and brought them to the site and told them about the development.
Upon their return to Belfast they met the solicitor who had been recommended to them, Gabriele Giambrone, who was based in London.
By June they had remortgaged their home and paid a ¤110,000 deposit, half the value of the property they were buying. “We were told a large deposit was standard in that part of Italy.”
By 2008 there were difficulties with the development due to planning permission. There were other “stops and starts”; by 2009 they began to fear they’d made a mistake. In early 2010 they engaged solicitor Simon Chambers, based in Newtownards, Co Down. They had seen him on TV in relation to his work with people who had sued Giambrone over another Calabrian development.
Chambers now represents 60 other clients who invested in the Jewel in the Sea project, which was to include 680 apartments but is still only a shell. Documents discovered to Chambers as part of an action against Giambrone, indicate that 62 per cent of the money deposited by these clients was forwarded to VFI, the rest to a property development company, RDV.