Regulatory bodies are only as good as those who manage them, and those serving the gaming and financial industries in several countries are apparently not very good. It was known for years that Wirecard, the German payments processor that just went bust with as much as $2 billion (or $3 billion, depending on the source) missing, had been called out for years over questionable dealings in the gaming industry. However, no one was ever willing to take the lead to shut it down, allowing, instead, for it to build up even more confidence that it was untouchable and create more questionable deals. One of those deals was apparently with one the largest, most well-known mafias in Europe, which, according to investigators, used the gaming company CenturionBet to launder money.
The UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, was warned last year about Wirecard’s questionable antics. Three years ago, Germany was warned and, that same year, Malta pulled its gaming license. This year, Chinese regulators slapped the company, through a known subsidiary, with a massive, record-breaking fine of $1.5 billion – money it will most likely never pay. Despite the warning signs, no one listened, and the noncommittal regulators are now paying the price.
The Financial Times reports that Wirecard was involved in payment processing for CenturionBet until 2017 when the latter lost its license. The gaming company was later found to be led by ’Ndrangheta, a mafia organization operating out of Calabria in southern Italy. The entity is said to be behind “industrial-scale” cocaine movements, extortion, arms smuggling, murder, money laundering and more. It also reportedly has been illicitly involved with one of the largest refugee reception centers in Europe and, as a result, having taken European Union funds that were destined for immigrants arriving to the continent from Africa.
’Ndrangheta was crippled after 68 people were arrested in an anti-mafia raid. 30 people have already been sentenced for crimes related to the organization’s activity, with more still waiting to stand trial. However, the mafia has not been broken completely, and has since been able to regroup and continue its activities.
Reports put Wirecard’s involvement with CenturionBet limited and was only a fraction of the company’s business. However, the gaming company was reportedly led by Francesco Martiradonna, the son of a convicted mob boss. That information would have readily been available to Wirecard when it entered the deal with the gaming operator. Martiradonna headed off to jail last year after being sentenced to 11 years behind bars for being involved in money laundering and tax evasion through CenturionBet.
Wirecard’s CEO, Markus Braun, has already been arrested and is preparing to stand trial for his egregious mismanagement of the company. Chief Operating Officer Jan Marsalek is being sought by police, but has vanished. There are rumors that he may have been operating as a spy, possibly for the Russian government, which could lead to the conclusion that he has been recalled for his own protection – or worse.