Ban on the identity of someone with a mafia connection? Newspapers should defy the court

Everyone is innocent before proven guilty: but justice has to be seen to be made, and Malta’s prosecution is squarely to blame here 

A court ban on the identity of a man wanted by a European Arrest Warrant for mafia connection in the remote gaming world? This is one of the rare, but necessary occasions, that a newspaper must defy a court ban on the name of a person. 

It is Antonio Ricci, listed as a company secretary to the Malta company Harvey Gaming, that has been arrested on a EAW, on suspicions of laundering ‘Ndrangheta mafia funds. He was denied bail by Magistrate Astrid May Grima, but strangely, the name of the 43-year-old businessman cannot be published. 

Not so for Italian state TV TG3 of course, which is aware of the name since he was one of the few not arrested in a blitz by Italian police in Operation Galassia last year

Blame a lazy prosecution that did not make the effort to oppose the defence lawyer’s request for a ban on the name. 

According to company records, Ricci is listed as the company secretary of Harvey Gaming, whose main shareholder (99%) is a Belize company called Harvey Associates, and nominally, an Italian national, Luigi Discornia, a Sliema resident. In turn, Discornia was the director of Betting Management, a company owned by Carmelo Mazza. Mazza is also the CEO of OIA Services, which runs the brands Betaland and Enjoybet. OIA's ownership is held inside a Hong Kong corporate services provider.

Discornia, who is not indicted, and Ricci were present at a Malta Football Association launch for its ‘Say No to Match-Fixing' integrity tour, which his sports data firm Betaland, and another firm Sportradar, were sponsoring. The tour was proposed by Sportradar, with Betaland covering the costs of this campaign, to assist the MFA in understanding sports-related data and find patterns of match-fixing in Maltese football. 

Yet again, the Italian and Maltese worlds of criminality and remote gaming, in sports as well as in poker chip-dumping, are overlapping each other. 

It is only coincidental that Discornia was once employed by Malta-based gaming company Centurionbet, which was suspected of having links to the Martiradonna clan back in 2016. The Gaming Authority then seemingly played down press reports in Malta and Italy, while Centurionbet’s legal team demanded a retraction of the reports. In 2017, the MGA suspended the company’s licence

Ricci was wanted by a court in Reggio Calabria to answer to charges that he laundered cash belonging to the mafia through his iGaming company. 

But defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi requested a ban on the publication of the man’s name, due to the fact that the requested person’s surname is common in Italy but not in Malta and because the requested person’s company employs some 80 people and the publication of his name would put their livelihoods in jeopardy. 

Strangely, the prosecution did not object to the request, which was then upheld by the court: would all Maltese defendants on lesser charges and with no top management rank be accorded such clemency when charged in court... 

Azzopardi has downplayed the allegations, saying the Italians want his client to pay corporate tax in Italy. It is probably the €60 million in taxes the Italians claim are payable on a non-declared income of €3.2 billion, in part related to the gaming brands Betaland, Enjoybet and Planetwin365, in Operation Galassia. 

Ricci may not be guilty, and is certainly innocent before proven as much, but allowing his identity to be protected on Maltese territory on such serious charges is an effrontery to the rights of those who are charged in Maltese courts and made to face the court of public opinion.

OIA Services Limited Statement

In a statement, the company OIA Services Limited clarified that Ricci was never its CEO and that it had been cleared to continue trading and operating as normal by Italian authorities.

"OIA Services Limited, a company operating within the betting sector, which is licensed by the Italian Authority (ADM), and which is the owner of the brands Betaland and Enjoybet, would like to clarify that Mr Antonio Ricci is not, and never was CEO of OIA Services Limited," the company said.

"Carmelo Mazza is the current CEO and key official of the company. OIA Services Limited confirms that it was never owned by Mr Ricci and that while it does not have a Maltese license, it does have an Italian Gaming license. After the initiation of this investigation it was cleared by the GIP and the Italian gaming commission to continue trading and operating as normal."

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