Updated | Six to be extradited over ‘Ndrangheta betting network set up in Malta

Calabrian magistrate says Italian national Mario Gennaro - now served with a European Arrest Warrant in Malta - serves as ‘ndrangheta’s point-man in betting industry by setting up host of companies in Malta • Gaming Authority repealed all licences of suspected betting firms

Reggio Calabria police closing down a Betuniqu betting outlet.
Reggio Calabria police closing down a Betuniqu betting outlet.

The Italian police has announced that an entire online betting network of companies, part of which is headquartered in Malta, has direct connections to the ‘Ndrangheta, the notorious Calabria criminal organization.

Calabria police described 39 year-old Mario Gennaro, who is registered at a Pendergardens address at St Julian's, as the mastermind behind the web of illegal online betting and gambling in Italy on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta.

Six Italian nationals - Gennaro, Margherita Giudetti, 34, Francesco Ripepi, 38, Alessandro Ciaffi, 40, Rocco Ripepi, 36 and Fortunato Stracuzzi, 37 - connected to the Betuniq brand who were living in Malta, have been arrested under a European Arrest Warrant and will spend the next 10 days in custody until they are deported to Italy. Their defence counsels are Joe Giglio and Stephen Tonna Lowell. Deputy Attorney General Donatella Frendo is prosecuting, with Lara Lanfranco and inspector Mario Cuschieri.

The police said that Gennaro registered a company in Malta – Betuniq – which controlled 1,500 gaming and betting agencies spread all over the Italian territory. The Italian media described the operation as an “economic power of gigantic proportions.”

The Malta Gaming Authority has suspended with immediate effect the licenses of Uniq Group Limited (Betuniq) and Betsolution4U Limited. The firms had been operating in Malta since 2011. "The MGA is providing full support to the relevant authorities so that Malta’s reputation as a gaming jurisdiction of excellence is kept free from crime and money laundering. The MGA is also alerting counterpart regulators in other EU jurisdictions about this case."

Judge Caterina Catalano ordered the arrest of 41 people and the seizure of assets worth some €2 billion.

Gennaro was described by the judge as the mafia’s “new man” (homo novus) who acted as the ‘ndrangheta’s “instrument and guarantor” in its attempt to infiltrate the betting industry through ostensibly lawful operations.

In recent years, Italian police had been following Gennaro’s movements closely, especially his frequent trips to Malta, where he participated in poker tournaments with notorious people from Calabria well known for their affection for casinos and sports betting.

Reports in the Italian media said that the police inquiry dubbed ‘Gambling’ shows that the Texas Holdem Poker tournaments in Malta were being used for the recycling of money deriving from criminal activities, principally from the Tegano clan.

Anti-mafia magistrates concluded that Gennaro’s frequent trips to Malta and his participation in poker tournaments confirmed that the mafia’s money was being transferred to Malta.

The mafia uses these multi-million legal betting operations for money laundering and tax evasion purposes.

The people identified as having been served with an arrest warrant include those names appearing under the Betuniq directors registered at Malta addresses: Serena Parvenza, Antonio Pantisano Trusci, Margherita Simona Giudetti, and Marco Zucco.

Maltese companies

The companies identified by the Calabria police were: Uniq Group, Uniq Shopping, Tebaral Holding and Teberal Trading, Betsolution4U ltd, and Fast Run Limited. All form part of the international Betuniq brand.

MaltaToday has established that Marco Zucco and Serena Parvenza, together with Paola Vero, Jessica Zucco and Annunziata Leopatra, were formerly shareholders in La Baronessa Limited, a company registered at the same Gzira address as Uniq Groupm, as well as GM Holdings, a company solely owned by a certain Mario Gennaro, registered address at Pendergardens in St Julian's.

Both La Baronessa and GM Holdings are in dissolution.

Uniq Group, registered in 2010, is owned by Start Games Limited, whose shareholders are the fiduciary company GVM Holdings, owned by the law firm of former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi. GVM offers its fiduciary services to dozens of gaming companies, and it appears as the nominal shareholder in the companies Uniq Group, Uniq Shopping, and Enetsport Service.

Enetsport is then owned by Start Games, Solution for Bet Limited, OGC Company Limited, and MGame Holding Limited – which companies in turn also own BestSolution 4U.