[WATCH] Mafia betting boss arrested, Malta licence suspended, Gonzi son issues statement

Siclian mafia betting boss arrested in Palermo • Company used Maltese licence for gaming company and kicked back cash to mafia bosses • David Gonzi disassociates himself from company

Mafia betting king Benedetto Bacchi under arrest, 2 February 2017
Mafia betting king Benedetto Bacchi under arrest, 2 February 2017

Malta’s gaming regulator has suspended the license of an online gambling operator linked to an Italian anti-mafia police action.

On Friday, the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) announced that it had suspended the remote gaming license of Phoenix International Ltd, which operated several online betting sites, including B2875.com, Bsport24.com and B28sport.com, none of which are currently accessible.

The suspension follows Thursday’s raids on dozens of internet cafés by Italian police, in a Palermo-centered anti-mafia operation dubbed Game Over. Among the 23 individuals arrested on Thursday was B2875 owner Benedetto Bacchi, the so-called ‘betting king’ who reportedly controlled a network of 700 betting shops across Italy.

Bacchi’s betting shops – officially ‘data transmission centres’ or CTDs – featured terminals that connected to the Malta-licensed Phoenix gambling sites.

The unauthorized operations reportedly generated undeclared revenue of €1 million each month, with a chunk of that sum allegedly kicked back to Cosa Nostra members. 

The Maltese lawyer David Gonzi, son of former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, issued a statement saying that his company GVM Holdings had offered fiduciary services to Phoenix but the relationship was terminated on 30 October 2016.

“The shares in the company have since that date been held directly by the shareholder. GVM Holdings is a licensed fiduciary company providing fiduciary services in terms of the Trusts and Trustees Act. I hold a one third-shareholding in GVM Holdings and was appointed as the third director of GVM Holdings on the 2nd December 2014. As from December 2015, GVM has been winding down its activities and has since sent termination letters to all its clients.”

Gonzi was already associated with the Betuniq bust in Malta, but was cleared from the list of potential suspects in Operation Gambling, an investigation into money laundering by the ‘Ndrangheta criminal organisation. Gonzi’s GVM Holdings had also given the Italians fiduciary services.

The MGA’s suspension notice ordered Phoenix to “indefinitely suspend all gaming operations, cease to register new players, suspend all transactions on all websites, including deposits and withdrawals, and submit all data and documentation requested by the Authority.”

The MGA further warned the public that any Phoenix-related sites that continue to claim to be operating under an MGA license were doing so without the MGA’s authorization. The MGA said no further info would be released so as not to compromise any current or future investigations into the alleged criminality.

Bacchi and many of his co-accused appeared in court on Friday to be formally charged with money laundering, mafia association, fraud and numerous other offenses. Bacchi declined to speak during his hearing,