An Italian prosecutor with long experience exposing the Calabrian mafia has issued a stunning rebuke to the Maltese authorities, warning that it is easier to collaborate with Peru and Colombia than with them.
“If Malta decides not to collaborate or replies six months or a year later, the investigation is useless,” Nicola Gratteri, the chief anti-mafia prosecutor in Catanzaro, told the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
Gratteri led the Italian investigations into Bet1128, a betting company that was based in Malta from 2009 till 2017, when it had its license revoked after its owner Francesco Martiradonna was arrested in Italy on charges of mafia affiliation.
The OCCRP questioned how the Malta Gaming Authority had granted the company a license in the first place given the pending money laundering charges against it in the Italian courts and its murky offshore structure concealing its beneficial ownership.
Nicola Gratteri has researched extensively into the Mafia’s operations in the drug trade
Its directors are listed as Tony Axisa – a former MGA enforcement director turned online Gambling consultant – and Italian technician Flaviano Fogli.
Italian prosecutors have accused Martiradonna of using Bet1228 to cut deals with the Arena mafia clan of the ‘Ndrangheta to control the gambling market in Crotone, charges the Italian gambling boss is pleading innocence to.
Documents seen by the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) show that the gaming company’s assets remained active for a while after its license was revoked, despite an urgent request for their seizure by the Italian courts to Attorney General Peter Grech.
However, no action was taken, prompting the Italian courts to file a fresh request for seizure in January 2018. According to the OCCRP, it was only after Italian journalists started asking the Maltese authorities for comment that Grech finally informed the Italian courts that the company’s assets had been seized. No formal evidence has yet been given to the Italian police that a seizure had taken place.
The offices of the LB Group in Malta
In another case, the OCCRP questioned how a gaming company called LB Group is still operating out of Gzira even though it had its license revoked a month ago after it was named in a widespread Italian investigation into how the mafia had infiltrated Malta’s gaming industry.
Palermo court records allege that the LB Group was managed by a powerful Cosa Nostra branch from Mazara del Vallo, the hunting ground of Matteo Messina Denaro – known as the ‘boss of bosses’ within the mafia. Italian investigators allege online gambling money may have financed Denaro’s life in hiding.
Just like Bet1128, LB Group’s ultimate beneficial ownership is also concealed by offshore structures. Its shares are owned by a Maltese company, which until 2016 was controlled by a trust partly owned by David Gonzi – a lawyer and the son of former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
David Gonzi was investigated by Italy in 2015 for his fiduciary role in setting up companies linked to mob boss Mario Gennaro, but no evidence of wrongdoing was found.