Wirecard processed payments for Mafia-linked online casino in Malta

Malta-based gaming company CenturionBet, which lost its licence in 2017, was used by the ’Ndrangheta crime organisation to launder money 

Arrested in 2009: Francesco Martiradonna (face covered) whose family controlled the Bet1128 brand
Arrested in 2009: Francesco Martiradonna (face covered) whose family controlled the Bet1128 brand

A Maltese online casino run by the dangerous ’Ndrangheta mafia, had its payments processed by Wirecard right up to 2017, the Financial Times has confirmed

Revenues from CenturionBet, whose licence was suspended in 2017 by the Malta Gaming Authority, comprised only a tiny fraction of Wirecard’s global operations. 

But the discovery raises questions about the business model of the German company “once lauded as a pioneer of European fintech”, the FT reported. 

CenturionBet was a Malta-based gaming company used by organised criminals to move cash out of the country in a sophisticated money laundering operation. The regulator took long to finally act by suspending the online gambling licence of CenturionBet Ltd, which operates the Bet1128 brand – despite having already been alerted to the firm’s criminal ties from reports by the Italy-based IRPI on the criminal involvement of an ’Ndrangheta group from Calabria.

Wirecard continued to do business with CenturionBet, which was incorporated in Malta but owned by a Panamanian shell company, until 2017 when its gambling licence was suspended by Maltese authorities and it ceased trading after an anti-mafia raid that saw 68 people arrested. Since then more than 30 people have been sentenced for mafia-related crimes linked to the case.  

According to internal documents seen by the FT, Wirecard also processed payments for another larger Maltese gambling company that has been named by the Italian authorities as having laundered money for organised criminal groups in cases that are still being investigated. 

One former Wirecard staff member recalled that after press reports of mafia links at the larger Maltese gambling company, a compliance review was carried out but the company passed on the basis of assurances provided. Wirecard declined to comment.

Wirecard went from being one of Germany’s largest publicly listed companies worth more than €24bn to admitting in June this year that large parts of its operations were likely to be fictional. Since then its former chief executive has been arrested in Germany on charges of fraud.

CenturionBet Saga

According to the investigation by Italy’s finance police, CenturionBet – through the services of Francesco Martiradonna – would have granted access to its online system to the company Kroton Games, which has connections to the ’Ndrangheta’s Arena clan, so that it could transfer large amounts of cash.

But when MaltaToday first reported Bet1128’s connection to Puglia’s organised crime syndicate, the Sacra Corona Unita, the Maltese regulator had taken exception to suggestions that it was unable to prevent the establishment of an alleged mafia-related business concern.

Originally, Bet1128 was owned by the Martiradonna family, before moving the gaming franchise from the UK in 2009 to Malta, so that the company assets would not be seized by a police investigation.

Members of the Martiradonna family later obtained residence permits in Malta and brought the UK-based gaming franchise into Malta through associates of theirs.

Formerly investigated by Bari’s anti-mafia police in 2009’s Operation Domino, the family’s patriarch – Vito Martiradonna – was in 2007 sentenced to three years and four months in jail for mafia association, particularly for his role as a cashier for the Sacra Corona Unita.

By moving the Bet1128 franchise to Malta, the Martiradonna family dodged the seizure of its British assets when in November 2009 Operation Domino started closing in on them. A month later, Martiradonna and his two sons Michele and Francesco were arrested on fraudulent transfer charges, but for which they were later acquitted in 2012. 

In November 2009, the British company Paradise Bet sold Bet1128 and 11 other assets to the Malta-based company CenturionBet. In phone conversations intercepted by the Italian police, Francesco Martiradonna repeatedly discussed moving Paradise Bet’s assets to Malta.


Bet1128’s lawyer Fabio Maggesi had told MaltaToday that the MGA had its operation in good standing, describing Bet1128 as “a solid brand that is fully in line with Maltese and European laws.”

Centurionbet Ltd had at one point in its establishment in 2009 used the services of the Gaming Authority’s former legal and enforcement director, the lawyer Anthony Axisa, as director.