The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) greenlit a gaming company’s licence knowing its ultimate owner was facing prosecution in Calabria for financial crimes, documents show.

E-mail correspondence reviewed by Times of Malta shows the MGA was aware during the licensing process that Habanero Systems owner Marcel Boekhoorn had been investigated and charged by the Italian authorities.

Boekhoorn, a Dutch billionaire, was in 2019 accused by prosecutors in Reggio Calabria of using “money, goods or assets of illicit origin”.

The case centres on allegations that Boekhoorn and his associates used money made through a business partner’s mafia-linked criminal activities to buy an 80 per cent stake in a casino game design company, via his private equity firm Ramphastos Investments.

The charges, which Boekhoorn strongly denies, are unrelated to Habanero Systems.

Habanero Systems announced last January that it had been granted an MGA licence.  The company is ultimately owned by Boekhoorn, via a web of other entities.

'Boekhoorn not involved in Habanero Systems'

Internal MGA correspondence shows the licence was issued on condition that Boekhoorn does not take any dividends from Habanero Systems or exercise his voting rights in the company until his name has been cleared.

A spokesperson for Boekhoorn confirmed the licence conditions, saying Boekhoorn “is in no way involved in the company [Habanero Systems]”.

MGA correspondence shows internal requests for missing or additional due diligence documents in 2020 on other shareholders in the Habanero Systems ownership structure appeared to raise the ire of MGA CEO Carl Brincat, who at the time was the regulator’s chief legal and enforcement officer.

In the October 2020 correspondence, Brincat asked two other MGA employees “if they had a majority” in the regulator’s fit and proper committee, which is tasked with assessing whether MGA licence applicants are fit and proper persons.

Brincat said in the e-mail correspondence that such a majority would allow them to “overrule” and “get this shitshow over with”.

Questioned by Times of Malta about the Habanero licensing process given the charges faced by Boekhoorn, Brincat said the law precluded him from commenting on specific licences.

Speaking in general terms, Brincat said the MGA is empowered not only to decide whether to issue or refuse to issue a licence but may also subject such licence to conditions when required.

Brincat said that any regulatory decision needs to be proportionate and adopting a risk-based approach does not mean rejecting any form of risk but taking the necessary steps to mitigate it.

A spokesperson for Boekhoorn said contrary to media reports, the Dutch billionaire had not been charged with money laundering but “with participation in a crime and the use of money, goods or assets of illicit origin”.

“The prosecutor’s investigation concerns the receipt of funds from a third party in connection with an investment by a Ramphastos Investments entity in Talenta Labs, a developer of casino software company based in Italy, which funds are alleged to have been unlawfully obtained by that third party.

“Neither Mr Boekhoorn nor his colleagues were aware or could have been aware that these funds could have been unlawfully obtained by that third party; there were no signs or indications in that direction,” the spokesperson said.  

Apart from interests in Habanero Systems, Marcel Boekhoorn is also the majority owner of the Malta-based Novum Bank.

 

 

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