Updated 11.55am with SK365 statement

Maltese gaming companies licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority are being implicated by Italian prosecutors as serving as a money-laundering machine for various Italian mafias based in Sicily, Reggio Calabria and Puglia.

Following the launching of operation 'Gaming offline' a few days ago, in which some 68 people across the three southern Italian regions were arrested, Sicilian prosecutors issued another 29 arrest warrants involving Mafia bosses based in Catania, Syracuse, Caltanisetta and Ragusa.

They are accused of running illegal gambling operations across the Sicilian territory, connected to gaming parlours operating under the 'Planetwin365' gambling mark, a company licensed by the Malta gaming regulator.

Planetwin365, which operates mainly in Italy, is owned by SKS365 Malta Holding Ltd, registered two years ago at an address in Swieqi.

READ: New gaming sector collaboration agreement between Malta and Italy

According to the MFSA registry, the gambling company is owned by three Dutch companies, one of them registered in the kingdom’s offshore territory of Curacao.

Among its three directors, one of them has an Italian name and lives in St Julian’s.

Italian prosecutors told Times of Malta that another 29 arrest warrants were issued in recent days

The Public Prosecutor at the Court of Reggio Calabria noted that with reference to SKS365, the investigations concerned exclusively the property/management that operated until 2017, or rather its sale to the new owners, against whom no elements of responsibility have emerged.

The Maltese connections in the ongoing anti-Mafia operations concentrating on the gaming industry were first mentioned some two weeks ago when the operation saw the freezing of some €1 billion of assets related to the Mafia and which according to the investigators involve between €1 to €2 million of proceeds from illegal gambling every month.

Italian prosecutors told Times of Malta that another 29 arrest warrants were issued in recent days, this time concentrating on Sicilian territory and which again are connected to illegal gambling involving the Malta-based companies.

The Italian police said that apart from Malta, there were also Romanian and Albanian companies involved in this massive illegal operation, which not only involves gambling but also the laundering of proceeds into other ‘legal’ business ventures both in Italy and abroad.

According to Catania-based state prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, the latest anti-Mafia operations show how the Italian Mafia has infiltrated the online gambling industry, which it uses with ease to launder its money from criminal activities with the help of companies based in foreign jurisdictions.

Other unnamed Malta-based companies are also involved in the latest investigations, though they may not be actively operating in Malta any longer.

Read: Italian gaming operators give up Maltese licences after anti-Mafia probe

According to Italian police sources, the companies were either struck off by the MGA or, in most cases, the same companies owned by Italian and other businessmen, had voluntarily surrendered their licences in Malta when their names started appearing in Italian investigations. The MGA did not reply to questions by the time of writing.

Last year, the Times of Malta reported how a separate anti-Mafia investigation in Palermo had uncovered advanced plans to relocate their underground activities through online gaming companies based in Malta.

"Malta has recently become the capital of online gambling and the Mafia bosses thought that this would be a good financial vehicle for them and less risky than making their money from extortion," Palermo-based prosecutor Salvatore de Luca said.

The MGA denied the accusations and said it was taking necessary measures through due diligence exercises.

It said the warrants issued on November 14 by the Italian authorities as part of their ongoing anti-Mafia operations, refer to the previous owners of SKS365, who following action taken by the MGA in 2017, are no longer involved in the company. 

"The Malta Gaming Authority will continue to monitor the situation and will collaborate with the competent authorities if and when requested."

'Fully supported requests to fight crime' - SKS365 Group

Meanwhile, the new SKS365 said in a statement it has fully supported the requests of the authorities in the fight against illegal gambling and crime.

"Following the anti-mafia operation against illegal online and retail gaming, the authorities have gone to great lengths to highlight that SKS365, and its related brand planetwin365, after the arrival of new owners and management in 2016 is unrelated to the investigation."

The new owners, Ramphastos, has replaced key managerial roles within the old set-up, with a new management that reflects regularised corporate values insisting they extraneous to the current investigations.

For instance, the group's compliance department has implemented teams of inspectors specifically appointed to verify the legitimacy of the work of each individual point of sale and ensure that best practice is driven across the network, it said.

"By embracing the opportunities offered by the regulations in the Italian market, new SKS365 has grown over the last 18 months to be a dominant force in the Italian market: clean, regulated and constantly delighting customers with entertaining gaming experiences both in a retail and online setting."