Police in Italy have unearthed an extensive ring of illegal online betting sites operating out of Malta, according to a report in the Malta Independent. The extensive operation, called Master Bet, has uncovered the participation of hundreds of people spread over Italy and Malta. It has resulted in 13 people being placed under house arrest in Italy. At least 46 other people nabbed as a consequence of it have had their commercial assets detained by the authorities. An additional 107 people have been questioned by the police because of their links with the gambling ring.
Francesco Airo, originally from Agrigento in Sicily and a well known businessman from Malta, has been placed under house arrest because of his involvement in the illegal gambling operations. In fact, the 37-year-old is believed to have moved to Malta after Italian authorities began operations against online gambling operations that were nothing but a front for money laundering. Furthermore, he had also been arrested earlier on account of his business dealings with the Italian underworld organization known as the Camorra.
While the focus of the operation was Catania, arrests have been made in places in Italy as widespread as Catania, Messina, Milan, Napoli, Trapani, and even Roma. Interestingly, there was no mention of arrests in Malta. The police investigation was conducted by keeping track of the communication between the two illegal gambling rings by tapping their telephone calls as well as other forms of communication.
The authorities in Catania, Sicily told the media that the online gambling scams were conducted as part of a complex network. The two criminal gangs that operated the gambling websites from Malta are believed to have used their sites to launder millions of Euros on a monthly basis. Interestingly, the websites in question were designed to cater to the Italian market and they made use of Malta registered platforms even though they did not have the permission to do so.
This crackdown on what are presumed to be Mafia-backed online gambling operations comes on the heels of another one that was uncovered in March. Criminals associated with the Camorra crime group from Naples had set up a very successful illegal online gambling ring that skimmed money from customers by rigging the games they played. The ring included more than 10 sites that offered attractively big pots on poker, casino, and slot games such as Tiki Island slots, but rigged the games to ensure that no one won them, ensuring that the criminals were able to take away millions of Euros.
Prior to that, 41people with alleged links to the ‘Ndrangheta organised crime group were arrested and €2 billion worth of assets were seized in a police operation conducted the previous year. In fact, that police operation also resulted in a number of Malta-licensed companies such as Betsolution4U Ltd and Uniq Group Ltd having their licenses suspended by the Malta Gaming Authority.
It is clear to see that authorities in Italy have their work cut out for them since the ballooning online gambling business is proving to be very attractive to mafia gangs.