Six companies registered in Malta have had their assets seized as part of a major clamp-down spearheaded by the Italian police on illegal gaming activities and money laundering linked the the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta'.

Companies involved in igaming have also had their licences suspended by the Malta Gaming Authority.

The Maltese gaming companies were part of an international network also involving companies in Italy, Austria, Romania and Spain.

They were allegedly led by Italian national Mario Gennaro who served as ‘Ndrangheta’s man in the betting industry by setting up companies in Malta.

Gennaro was among six Italians who arraigned in the Maltese courts this afternoon in connection with the case after local police acted on a European arrest warrant. The others were Francesco Riperi, 38, Rocco Riperi, 36, Margherita Gudetti, 34, Fortunato Stracuzzi, 37 and Alessandro Ciaffi, 39.

All six agreed to be extradited to Italy where they are wanted for alleged involvement in organised crime.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Steve Tonna Lowell said their clients were giving their consent for extradition so that they could participate in the investigation by the Italian police as they had nothing to do with the allegations made against them.

The Malta-based companies alleged by the Italian police  to be involved in the illegal activities are Uniq Group Ltd, Uniq Shopping Ltd, Tebaral Holding Ltd, Tebaral Trading Ltd, Betsolution4U Ltd and Fast Run Ltd. 

Deputy Attorney General Donatella Frendo Dimech, Lara Lanfranco from the AG’s office and Police Inspector Mario Cuschieri prosecuted.

The Malta Gaming Authority said it has suspended with immediate effect the licences of Uniq Group Limited (Betuniq) and Betsolution4U Limited. These operators have been operating in Malta since 2011.

"This is further to investigations and arrests carried out by the Italian law enforcement authorities in collaboration with the Maltese police," the MGA said.

It added that it is fully supporting the relevant authorities so as to ensure that Malta’s reputation as a gaming jurisdiction of excellence is kept free from crime and money laundering.

The MGA is also alerting counterpart regulators in other EU jurisdictions about this case.

The Italian police said they had seized assets worth €2 billion and issued 41 arrest warrants in raids on gambling companies in Italy and abroad run by the 'Ndrangheta mafia organisation.

Police believe the firms, including the six that were operating out of Malta, were used to launder vast sums of illicit cash.

Italy's mafia groups, including the 'Ndrangheta from the southern region of Calabria, the Camorra from Naples and Sicily's Cosa Nostra, have strengthened their grip on southern Italy's economy and spread to the richer north during a three-year economic slump.

Among the targets of today's operation were 1,500 betting shops, 82 gambling websites, 45 Italian companies and 11 foreign firms, as well as "innumerable" property assets, the financial police said in a statement.

Apart from the firms run from Malta, two were in Spain, two in Romania and one in Austria.

The Calabrian mafia has grown rich on the drugs trade, becoming one of Europe's biggest importers of South American cocaine, with strong ties to Mexican and Colombian cartels.

It also runs companies in sectors including trucking and hospitality, with a stranglehold on the economy of Calabria, where unemployment is above 20 percent.  

SUSPECT ARRESTED ON ARRIVAL FROM MALTA

The Italian media also reported that the Police in Italy on Monday arrested long sought ‘mafioso’ Vincenzo Locorotundu upon arrival on the catamaran from Malta.

An arrest warrant for the 32-year-old was issued in June. He is alleged to have had illegal possession of weapons and explosives.

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