Mafia allegations in Maltese gaming: Authority says its oversight is ‘world-class’

According to an Italian newspaper, members of the Martiradonna family, who have been given residence permits in Malta and whose patriarch was investigated by anti-mafia police in 2009, relocated their gaming franchise to Malta through their associates.

CLARIFICATION: The original print and online version of this article made an incorrect reference to other tenants of the company address to which Bet1128 was registered. The author states that the association was unintended, and that there is no connection, direct or indirect, between Bet1128 and the tenants of the company offices in which it is housed. The error is regretted.

Malta’s gaming authority is taking exception to suggestions in the Italian press that it was unable to prevent the establishment of an alleged mafia-related business concern, that moved its gaming franchise to Malta.

According to the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, members of the Martiradonna family – who have been given residence permits in Malta – could have had their gaming franchise in the UK, relocated to Malta through their associates. 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 yearsrs and four months in jail for mafia association, particularly for his role as a cashier for the Capriati clan of Puglia’s organised crime syndicate, the Sacra Corona Unita.

According to the report by Matteo Civilini and Craig Shaw, the Martiradonna family appears to have dodged the seizure of its British assets by moving the Bet1128 franchise to Malta in November 2009, when 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. Francesco was also charged with cocaine trafficking, for which he first received a 12-year sentence but was later absolved on appeal.

According to the report, when in the November 2009 sale the British company Paradise Bet sold Bet1128 and 11 other assets to the Malta-based CenturionBet, Michele Martiradonna was then the primary shareholder from 2005 until his arrest in December 2009.

While the Martiradonna family denies any connection to the Maltese company, the journalists together with the support of the IRPI network (Investigative Reporting Project Italy) uncovered evidence that suggests otherwise. While family members are not listed as owners or directors of the company, Martiradonna’s two sons have listed themselves on networking site LinkedIn as managers of several gambling operations that, according to Malta’s business registry, operate from the same address as CenturionBet.

Throughout its existence, CenturionBet’s ownership has shifted from one British Virgin Islands company to another, with the stated beneficial owner listed as Antonio Buontempo, who happens to be a former Paradise Bet employee and a director of a company that shared an address with Paradise Bet.

'Bari calling Malta: Little Vito and online gambling' reads the headline in Il Fatto Quotidiano, and on its front page, the newspaper says: 'The company the scent of mafia finds a new home in Malta'
'Bari calling Malta: Little Vito and online gambling' reads the headline in Il Fatto Quotidiano, and on its front page, the newspaper says: 'The company the scent of mafia finds a new home in Malta'

And in phone conversations intercepted by the Italian police before the November 2009 sale, Francesco Martiradonna repeatedly discussed moving Paradise Bet’s assets to Malta and once suggested using nominee directors to do this, according to Italian arrest warrants obtained by IRPI.

The Martiradonna family’s lawyer, Giancarlo Chiarello, has denied that Vito Martiradonna’s children had anything to do with the Maltese company. “The company CenturionBet has never been the subject of a criminal investigation,” Chiarello said. “And I am not aware that Francesco Martiradonna played a role in its corporate structure.”

On its part, the Malta Gaming Authority has taken exceptions at suggestions that the alleged associates of the Martiradonna family found it easy to move their betting companies in the “gaming paradise” that is Malta.

“The inference in the article that Malta has lax oversight is totally untrue and unfounded,” executive chairperson Joseph Cuschieri told this newspaper when asked to comment on the findings.

“Our standards of due diligence, technical standards and regulatory oversight are world class and go beyond what other European gaming regulators perform. Furthermore, it is also untrue and misleading to allege that Malta is used by online gambling companies to operate illegally in Italy.”

Cuschieri said that Centurionbet Ltd currently holds one class 2 (sports betting) remote gaming licence. “In view of the fact that this company is a licensed entity all supervisory and compliance checks in their regard would be conducted in line with the MGA’s internal policies and procedures. Needless to say, the MGA conducts its own ongoing local and international media scanning and investigates any such allegations seriously; taking action when required and based on evidence and analysis.”

According to company registry records, Centurionbet Ltd had at one point in its establishment in 2009 used the services of a former Gaming Authority legal and enforcement director, the lawyer Anthony Axisa, as director.

Right of reply from Bet 1128

Avv. Fabio Maggesi writes: "Bet1128 is obliged to clarify any single accusation that is false and calumnious in its regard. The MGA has our operation in good standing and has always carried out the necessary due diligence, notably by granting the company a licence. To put this into question would suggest that the MGA is unable to carry out its job properly, when the facts have always shown that Bet1128 is a solid brand that is fully in line with Maltese and European laws.

"Actions that damage the image and reputation of a company such as ours are without doubt in breach of the 95/46/EC directive and cannot be acceptable. The necessary clarifications must therefore take place without any prejudice to our legal right of redress."