The following report published today by Nicola Tani in a specialist industry magazine gives an idea of how the worldwide gaming industry, a major contributor to the Maltese economy, is changing its perception of Malta. Concerns about the use of Malta as a laundromat for Italian organised crime are escalating and the defense of the Maltese regulator who was responsible to prevent this penetration is starting to sound ever more hollow.
A top anti-mafia investigator has claimed that the Italian mafia has infiltrated Malta’s online gaming industry and takes advantage of the island’s fiscal and legal systems to launder dirty money, sparking a determined response from the island’s gaming regulator.
During a two-day fact finding visit to Malta late last month, the head of the Italian anti-mafia Parliamentary Committee, Rosy Bindi, and two members of the Italian parliament met members of Malta’s justice department, the attorney general, the parliamentary spokesperson and the nationalist party but was rebuffed by the police. “The police commissioner unluckily had no time to meet us,” she complained.
At the end of her visit, Bindi said: “Those who run online gaming companies often base their organisations in Malta, taking advantage of the Maltese fiscal system and the opacity in the registration of businesses. It is of the utmost importance for the Italian and Maltese parliaments to step up their collaboration when it comes to fighting organised crime,” she added.
Bindi’s visit came days after the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was blown up by a car bomb. Galizia, who reported widely on financial and political corruption, had published leaked documents on alleged money laundering cases involving top Maltese officials, and frequently reported on their dealings with figures in the island’s online gambling industry.
The chair of the Italian anti-mafia committee said that she was not convinced that Malta is doing its best to combat money laundering and organised crime, and called for a major effort by the Maltese government to try to close legal loopholes which could be exploited by Italian crime syndicates.
“Those who order assassinations are often the ones who fear that loopholes will be closed,” Bindi said.
A few hours after the visit of Bindi, Joe Cuschieri, the executive chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), told GamblingCompliance: “I do not agree with the statement of Ms Bindi. Fiscal conditions similar to those in Malta exist in other European jurisdictions too.
“Our fiscal structures and company registration systems and processes are transparent and non-discriminatory and in line with EU standards and legislation.
“Any fiscal incentives intended to attract foreign investment do not necessarily mean that they attract organised crime.”
Cuschieri said that the MGA’s relationship with the Italian regulator was strong, “we have always worked very well with our Italian counterparts (AAMS). If there are other channels which are not working well, bilateral discussions on this matter can be escalated at a political level.”
Since 2015 investigations in Italy and Malta have highlighted the ties between the Italian mafia and Malta’s gambling industry.
The most recent episode in the organised crime saga began in June when prosecutors and financial police detained Italian Francesco Martiradonna, who they believe to be the real owner of the Maltese gaming company CenturionBet, a company now suspended by the MGA, alongside another 67 arrests.
Through an anti-mafia operation codenamed “Jonny”, Italian police claim to have uncovered dangerous links between CenturionBet and the southern Italian crime syndicate.
Only two years ago, in July 2015, the sensational “Operation Gambling” of the anti-mafia prosecutor in Reggio Calabria led to the trial and sentencing of 30 people, and the seizure of goods worth €2bn.
The Maltese online company Betuniq, now closed down, was led by Mario Gennaro, a manager who was arrested and later sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for his relations with the Tegano organisation, one of the most dangerous crime families in the southern region of Calabria.
Still, after these two cases, law enforcement sources have revealed their continued frustration at the lack of cooperation and decisive action from all parties.
A source within the Malta Police recently told GamblingCompliance that “a lack of cooperation between international regulators and law enforcement is creating opportunities for organised crime and illegal online gambling operators around the world”.
The police spokesman added that “if we do not exchange useful and well-timed information, then it will be difficult to avoid new ‘Betuniq cases’”.
Malta’s gambling watchdog Cuschieri said the “Gambling” and “Jonny” cases are proof that further improvements are underway: “There were particular circumstances in those two cases. Notwithstanding, since then we have taken concrete measures and invested in more resources including further intelligence gathering and information systems.”
Malta’s gaming sector has a total gross value added of more than €900m, according to the European Commission’s latest country report for the island member state. In 2016, the industry employed more than 6,000 workers, with the MGA earning revenues of €62.5m.