Maltese lawyer, consultant in ‘Ndrangheta gaming bust, off the hook

David Gonzi, a lawyer, and Iosif Galea, a gaming consultant, were removed from the list of suspects in the conclusion of investigations by the anti-mafia directorate of Reggio Calabria

David Gonzi (left) and Iosif Galea (right), cleared
David Gonzi (left) and Iosif Galea (right), cleared

The Maltese names that featured in an anti-mafia operation in Reggio Calabria, have been removed from the list of potential suspects in Operation Gambling, an investigation into money laundering based in Malta through the use of remote gaming firms.

David Gonzi, a lawyer whose company GVM Holdings gave the Italians fiduciary services, and Iosif Galea, a gaming consultant, were removed from the list of suspects in the conclusion of investigations by the anti-mafia directorate of Reggio Calabria.

Galea was the director of the company Betsolution4U, which was on the prosecutors’ list of suspicious companies, with Keith Massa as company secretary. The three shareholders in the company included GVM Holdings.

'Ndrangheta man in Malta, Mario Gennaro: extradited.
'Ndrangheta man in Malta, Mario Gennaro: extradited.

The bust on the Betuniq group, which is run from offices in Malta, had led to the arrest of Mario Gennaro, 39, an associate of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta who had taken up sojourn in Malta together with other associates.

Gennaro was arrested in 2015 on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant.

Despite Gennaro having already outed in 2011 as an associate of the Tegano clan, neither the Malta Gaming Authority nor GVM Holdings – the company that gave the Betuniq group fiduciary services to hide their owners’ identities – appear to have been aware of the criminal elements planning to funnel millions through Malta’s remote gaming industry.

The Betuniq group’s ties to the ‘Ndrangheta were revealed during a Palermo tribunal on 26 May, 2014, that had condemned several members of the Noce clan of the Sicilian Mafia to a total of 300 years’ imprisonment.

Gennaro was then exposed to have been running Betuniq’s network of gaming shops in Reggio Calabria and in neighbourhoods controlled by the ‘Ndrangheta. But even earlier in 2011, in a seizure order issued by the Reggio Calabria anti-mafia unit, Gennaro was described as being “tied to Franco Benestaro, deputy head of the Tegano ‘ndrina”.

“In his lifetime Gennaro has attracted the attention of inquiring magistrates for his relations with the Tegano ‘ndrina,” the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported in July 2014.

 “With him working in the background, Betuniq is doing great, with 330 shops in Reggio Calabria and the rest of the south, raking in €225 million in 2013. Its singular achievement is that it has no concession from the state – Betuniq is blacklisted by the Customs and Monopolies Agency.”

But the Betuniq brand prospered in Malta, with a licence issued to Uniq Group Ltd in December 2013, backdated to May 2012.

The Uniq Group applied for a licence in November 2010, with due diligence checks conducted between then and February 2011. But no adverse remarks were found on the licensee and applicants. 

David Gonzi, the son of the former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, had distanced himself from suggestions that Gennaro’s criminal ties were overlooked by his fiduciary firm.

Gonzi is a 33% shareholder in GVM Holdings, a name-lender company that serviced the Uniq Group and its owner Start Games Limited, and several of its associated companies and subsidiaries.

In Malta, the Betuniq companies were controlled by Ulisse Bellino, Mario Gennaro, Mario Zucco, Domenico Lagrotteria, Giovanni Longo, and Cosimo Suppa – all names mentioned by the Reggio Calabria prosecutor as being part of the ‘Ndrangheta’s web of influence in their gaming interest.

In the original dossier for Operation Gambling, the Reggio Calabria prosecutor, claimed it would be plausible to put Gonzi “right at the centre of an international criminal business triangulation network”.

But his name has since been removed from the investigation’s dossier. Gonzi always denied having met or spoken to Gennaro, and that his first contact with the gaming companies was in October 2013, when he had no reason to suspect they were involved in any unlawful activity. “It was only on this basis that the companies involved were accepted as clients of GVM.”

Gennaro was ‘Ndrangheta’s point-man 

Operation Gambling’s 128 persons of interest found that Pendergardens resident Mario Gennaro was the point-man for the ‘Ndrangheta, running a gaming network as part of an alliance that also featured the Camorra of Naples, and the Sicilian Mafia.

“He guaranteed the controlled diffusion of various illicit [gambling] sites, the result of a criminal pact with entrepreneurs [Renato] Grasso and [Antonio] Padovani, respectively representing the Camorra and the Sicilian Mafia.” 

The investigators claim that it is clear that Mario Gennaro was the ‘Ndrangheta’s representative “with whom Grasso and Padovani came to terms to guarantee the illicit and criminal sponsorship of their [gambling] shops in Calabria”.

Gennaro was arrested together with Margherita Giudetti, 34, Francesco Ripepi, 38, Alessandro Ciaffi, 40, Rocco Ripepi, 36 and Fortunato Stracuzzi, 37, all connected to the Betuniq brand and living in Malta.

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.