Who is the real Dorothy Fasola

TUCKED up a quiet country lane, in a very ordinary Scottish suburb, lies the unassuming home of Dorothy Fasola. From this bungalow, barely a stone's throw from her local police station, she quietly runs her seafood-exporting business.

The slightly-built 57-year-old widow of an Italian businessman hardly merits a second glance in the shops of Bucksburn, on the outskirts of Aberdeen, where, until three years ago, she lived a largely anonymous existence.

Her business, buying prime Scottish salmon, langoustine and monkfish for sale in the markets of Italy, turns over nearly 2 million in a good year. But in the North-east's thriving fish trade, she claims she is just another small-time player, trying to earn an honest crust.

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Yesterday, however, a very different picture emerged of Dorothy Fasola. Some 1,300 miles away, in a Serbian court, three alleged members of a gang faced trial, accused of staging Japan's biggest-ever diamond heist.

The key player in this violent and dramatic robbery is not on trial. But the court papers are clear about her identity: Dorothy Fasola.

The court papers detail how two men and a woman - all Serbian nationals - were responsible for a daring armed raid on an exclusive boutique in Tokyo in March 2004, in which the robbers escaped with more than 20 million in jewellery.

One of the gems stolen from the exclusive Le Supre-Diamant Couture de Maki boutique was the fabled "Comtesse de Vendme", a 125-carat necklace encrusted with 116 diamonds and worth 17 million, which had been on display at the boutique since it opened in 1991.

Belgrade's special court for organised crime and war crimes will hear how two men, Djordjije Rasovic and Aleksandar Radulovic, have been charged with carrying out the robbery in which pepper spray was used to immobilise an employee before the gang used hammers to smash through reinforced glass showcases to grab the jewellery. A Serbian woman, Snezena Panajotovic, 23, is also accused of being part of the gang.

Fasola has been named in the trial papers as an alleged accomplice. She and Panajotovic are also alleged to have helped to organise the heist, buying airline tickets, obtaining fake Czech and Croat passports and booking hotels for the robbery gang.

Fasola - who has consistently maintained her innocence - has also been named in Japanese police papers as one of the masterminds behind the robbery.

Yesterday, as the three alleged gang members appeared before a closed court in Belgrade, Fasola was keeping a low profile at her home in Bucksburn.

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Asked if she was aware of the proceedings against her alleged accomplices, she politely declined to make a statement. "I have no comment to make, thank you. Bye bye," she said.

Fasola, however, has more than a trial in Serbia to worry about. The businesswoman is currently facing extradition to Italy, where the authorities want to jail her for her part in an armed robbery and counterfeiting scheme in Milan - a move she is contesting on the basis that her business in Scotland would suffer and jobs would be lost.

In the world of international crime, Fasola's life story is as bizarre as they come. But as one acquaintance told The Scotsman yesterday, she is an unlikely looking criminal mastermind. "She is the sort of woman you'd think would need to be helped across the road, far less being involved in organised crime," he said.

Another who knows Fasola said: "She is a very personable woman - very quiet - and there is certainly nothing special about her. But when you hear all the things she is said to have done, it is just absolutely remarkable. She is just the last person you would expect to be involved in international crime, or whatever."

Remarkable is an apt description of the life story of Fasola, whose colourful past, much of it still veiled in intrigue and secrecy, could have come straight from the pages of a thriller.

Born on 16 December, 1949, Dorothy Shirreffs was the eldest of four daughters of Alexander and Dorothy Shirreffs, who ran the Black Dog pub at Bridge of Don for 16 years until they retired in 1981. Her father had previously been the licensee of two other popular bars in the city, the Rat Cellar in Torry and the Copper Beech in Garthdee, while Mrs Shirreffs had also worked as barmaid in a number of pubs.

After leaving school, young Dorothy set out to travel the world, and by the age of 21 she was working in Spain as a guide for a travel firm.

Her travels took her to Italy, where she married an Italian, Luigi Fasola, in Milan in 1975. They established a business selling jewellery and other objets d'art via a television shopping channel. In 1983, they were both arrested by Italian police on suspicion of receiving and selling stolen goods.

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Two years later, in 1985, Luigi Fasola died, leaving his wife to care for their two-year-old daughter, Elena.

Four years later, Fasola, who had set up home with Amedeo Pani, a former policemen 12 years her junior, was arrested in a raid on the base from which she ran her costume-jewellery business, accused of being the mastermind behind a multi-million-dollar counterfeiting operation. She was released from prison pending her trial.

Details of her past have emerged at a series of extradition hearings at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. In February 1998, she was sentenced to four years and two months in Italy for organising an armed robbery. In April 1995, she was sentenced to four years for being part of a criminal counterfeiting organisation. She still has to serve two years and five months of that jail term.

And in May 2001, she was sentenced to four years for distributing counterfeit money while managing a Milan jewellery shop between 1988 and 1989.

The Italian authorities claim Fasola has still to face a total of seven years and seven months behind bars for her various crimes. Two of the sentences were imposed in her absence, and the Italian authorities claim she is "unlawfully at large" following her convictions.

But it was in July, 2004, that the unassuming businesswomen really hit the headlines when she emerged as a prime suspect in an international police investigation into Japan's biggest jewellery robbery.

Her home was raided by officers from Grampian Police crime squad, deployed to aid a Japanese police inquiry into the raid on the Tokyo boutique.

Fasola has never been charged in connection with the robbery. But the Japanese police authorities claim that two women kept watch in a caf near the store while the male robbers posed as customers before attacking the staff with pepper spray and stealing the jewels. The robbers are then said to have escaped on motorcycles, before joining up with the two women and, posing as couples, flying out of Japan from different airports with fake Croat and Czech passports.

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The trial of the three Serbians is being held in the Balkan state because there is no extradition agreement between Serbia and Japan.

Fasola had already returned from Italy to Aberdeen before the Tokyo raid - her daughter was educated at Robert Gordon's College and later studied law at Aberdeen University.

She set up a fish export business, Maresca Ltd, in 2001, running the business largely from her home and buying seafood from local suppliers and shipping it to Italy. At one stage, the business had an annual turnover of almost 2 million.

A fish processor with business links to Fasola told The Scotsman: "She just very quietly goes about her business as if nothing had happened.

"She orders the seafood she needs direct from processors and runs her own lorries into Italy. And she brings in hams, olive oil and many other things back into Britain.

"She is just another trader and I have never heard a bad comment about her - nothing that you put your finger on and say, 'This is bad person to deal with'. She is pretty well respected in the industry. If people start doing things they shouldn't and start cheating people in this industry, they don't last very long. And Dorothy Fasola has lasted."

• Additional reporting by Christian Jennings in Belgrade.


16 December, 1949 - Born Dorothy May Shirreffs.

1975 - Married Italian Luigi Fasola in Milan.

1983 - Arrested by Italian police on suspicion of receiving and selling stolen goods.

1985 - Luigi Fasola died.

February 1998 - Sentenced to four years and two months in Italy for organising an armed robbery.

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May, 2001 - Given four years for distributing counterfeit money while managing a Milan jewellery shop.

March, 2004 - Two "European-looking" suspects make off with more than 20 million in jewellery in Tokyo, the biggest gem heist in Japanese history.

June, 2004 - Japanese police seek international arrest warrant for three Serbians and one British woman over the robbery.

14 July, 2004 - The Scotsman reveals police raided an address in Aberdeen over the theft.

16 July, 2004 - Woman whose home was raided named as Dorothy Fasola, 54. Her lawyer says: "Mrs Fasola knows nothing about any jewel robbery in Tokyo."

December, 2005 - Three Serbians arrested and charged with Tokyo robbery.

April, 2006 - Dorothy Fasola is named as an alleged accomplice in the robbery as the trial of the Serbians begins.

June, 2006 - Italian authorities attempt to extradite Mrs Fasola as part of inquiries into an alleged 5 million fraud.

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February, 2007 - Edinburgh Sheriff Court hears Italian authorities want to jail Dorothy Fasola for her part in an armed robbery and counterfeiting scheme in Milan. She is fighting the extradition bid.

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