The gaming watchdog is worried that lack of collaboration between anti-Mafia Italian authorities, the Malta police and regulators weakened the fight against irregular activity, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Malta Gaming Authority sources said that though the regulator was not a law enforcement agency, intelligence on irregular activity involving companies registered in Malta did occasionally reach it.
“The problem is there is no collaboration between the Italian authorities investigating the Mafia, the Malta police and authorities like us. We are literally kept in the dark and find out what’s happening from the Italian press,” the sources complained.
MGA executive chairman Joseph Cuschieri was quoted as telling Italian gaming news site Agimeg he wanted to “start a collaboration” with the Anti-Mafia Commission in Italy and any other authority wanting to be informed about the activity of Italian gaming operators in Malta.
He told the Times of Malta on Wednesday “a handful” of Italian companies registered on the island, but did not actually operating here, were undergoing a new review process.
The move follows the arrest by the Italian authorities of Benedetto Bacchi, suspected to be a member of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, earlier this month.
Known as the ‘King of slot machines’, Mr Bacchi was allegedly behind hundreds of gambling stores each generating millions of euros. The Italian authorities believe he was using Malta-based companies to launder money made by the Mafia from drug trafficking, extortion and other illicit activities.
“In view of recent events in Italy and arrests carried out by the Italian police in connection with alleged organised crime, the risk profile of certain business models adopted by Italian licensees is under review and scrutiny was enhanced to minimise any potential present and future risks to the Maltese jurisdiction,” Mr Cuschieri said.
The gaming watchdog sources expressed fears that the Italian Mafia was using Malta to launder money through bogus gaming companies registered on the island.
“Whenever we have an issue of organised crime and money laundering involving a gaming company registered in Malta it always turns out to be an Italian company or to have links to Italy,” they said.
The gaming authority had started reviewing companies registered in Malta and having overseas operations, also drawing on tip offs it received.
“We have clamped down considerably because the system is being abused.
“Three years ago, we had about 30 companies registered here that did business in Italy, now we have just a couple,” the sources noted.
The highest profile case of the Italian Mafia using the Maltese gaming jurisdiction emerged in 2015 when six companies had their assets seized by the Italian police and international law enforcement agencies.
The international operation had revealed that the Calabrian Mafia clan ‘Ndrangheta owned three Maltese gaming licences linked to two of the companies – Uniq Group (Betuniq) and Betsolution4u – and been laundering millions of euros.