’Ndrangheta’s Malta man turns informer to relaunch disgraced betting company

Mario Gennaro, a point-man in an ‘Ndrangheta money laundering operation, gets reward for informing on clan members with a gaming licence

Mario Gennaro, escorted by the police on his arrival in Italy after his arrest in Malta last year
Mario Gennaro, escorted by the police on his arrival in Italy after his arrest in Malta last year

The Italian who ran a money laundering operation in Malta through a network of remote gaming companies has been rewarded for collaborating with the Italian authorities by being allowed to resurrect the business he ran for the Calabria mafia,’Ndrangheta. 

Mario Gennaro, 39, was arrested in Malta in July 2015 together with several other associates on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant, following a bust led by anti-mafia police from Reggio Calabria, home of the feared, international criminal organisation. 

Following his arrest, Gennaro turned informer and his revelations revealed the relationship between the world of illegal online betting and organised crime including the Camorra of Naples, and the Sicilian Mafia.

Now Betuniq, the company which previously operated in Malta, will soon resume its business in Italy under Mario Gennaro’s guidance after the magistrate overseeing Gennaro’s case accepted the informer’s request – upon the recommendation of the Antimafia prosecution office – to allow him to resuscitate Betuniq.

The decision has baffled Maltese authorities because after last year’s crackdown on the illegal operations, the Italian regulatory body is allowing Betuniq to operate under the same owner and under the same name.

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.

‘Never give up’ Betuniq says, quite appropriately
‘Never give up’ Betuniq says, quite appropriately

Reward for collaboration 

This month, Judge Caterina Catalano accepted Gennaro’s request to relaunch the company, following what has been described as his “decisive contribution” to the authorities’ investigations. 

The company’s webpage is back online and is announcing “the beginning of a new era and with humility we are once again at your service.” 

Last week, Betuniq’s new commercial director, Ugo Cifone, said the court’s decision “expressly provides for the possibility for Gennaro to return to work with Betuniq”.

Gennaro, who has been kept under house arrest in undisclosed locations during his cooperation with the Italian police, has agreed to work remotely and to have no contact with the betting public. 

Reports in the Italian media say that Gennaro’s role will be confined to marketing, promotions and strategic planning. The new Betuniq will operate under a licence issued by Italian regulator AAMS to Poker & Bet Ltd – a subsidiary of the Naples-based Vincitù Group. 

Vincitù’s CEO and Betuniq director Vincent Saviano, said the revamped operation would reopen for business to Italian gamblers “within 15 days” and that in addition to betting Betuniq will also offer online poker and live dealer casino games.

Betuniq will operate both online and physical ‘recharge points’ that will allow customers to top up their accounts, but withdrawals will only be permitted via traditional payment channels i.e. credit cards and bank transfers.

Upon his arrest, Calabria police described 40-year-old Mario Gennaro, who was 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.

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.

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 affction for casinos and sports betting.  

They also said 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.  

Despite Gennaro having already been 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”.