Police in Italy have launched a crackdown on Malta-licensed online gambling operator Betuniq as part of an operation targeting an alleged Mafia organization.
On Wednesday, Italian police launched pre-dawn raids on betting operations both within the country and in Malta that police allege have ties to the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime group. Police said they seized assets worth €2b and issued 41 arrest warrants, including one bearing the name of alleged betting scheme mastermind Mario Gennaro aka Mariolino.
Among the targets of the raids were 1,500 betting shops in Italy, 82 online gambling sites, 45 Italy-based companies and 11 overseas firms, including six in Malta, two each in Romania and Spain, plus one in Austria. Police claimed to have seized “innumerable” property assets during their Wednesday action against an “economic power of gigantic proportions.”
Malta Today reported that the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) had immediately suspended the licenses of the affected Malta-based companies, including Uniq Group Ltd and Betsolution4U Ltd. The Betuniq.eu/it site was still operational several hours after this report but has since gone dark.
The Uniq Group is owned by Start Games Ltd, whose shareholders include fiduciary company GVM Holdings, which is owned by the law firm of former Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. Start Games also holds a nominal ownership stake in B2B supplier Enetsport Service. Gennaro is listed as a director of GVM Holdings but his name doesn’t appear as a registered owner of any of the Malta-based companies targeted in Wednesday’s crackdown.
Italian police allege that Gennaro made multiple trips to Malta to participate in poker tournaments in order to launder money derived from illegal activity and to evade Italian taxes, although this seems dubious, as such a scenario would require collusion on behalf of every single member of the tournament in order to be successful.
Italian media have described Gennaro as the Mafia’s “homo novus” or ‘new man,’ i.e. a legally acceptable front for the mafia’s attempts to infiltrate the betting industry. Also named in the arrest warrants were Malta-based Betuniq directors Sernea Parvenza, Antonio Pantisano Trusci, Margherita Simona Giudetti and Marco Zucco.