The Mafia’s Money Laundering Game
In a narrative straight out of a Martin Scorsese film, the tale of Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who spent 30 years on the run before his recent capture, unfolds like a gripping thriller. As reported by the BBC, Denaro, once Italy’s most-wanted man, has now met his end after battling cancer.
Among his many crimes, for which he was sentenced to life in absentia in 2002, Denaro was responsible for the murders of two prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors. In fact, he once boasted that he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims.
Despite three decades on the lam, Denaro allegedly continued to operate his organized crime empire from various secret locations. The Sicilian Mafia, known as the Cosa Nostra, is involved in a plethora of illegal activities, including extortion, drug trafficking, and illegal bookmaking.
To profit financially from all their illicit operations, the Cosa Nostra needed a means to launder cash. Here’s where the organization leveraged online gambling companies based in Malta to do just that, all while raking in more money.
Operation Game Over
In 2018, the police began to unravel the Cosa Nostra’s illegal gambling scheme, launching an operation dubbed “Game Over” to put an end to it.
It all began in February of that year when the Palermo police arrested the “Betting King,” Benedetto Bacchi. The raid, which ended with the apprehension of 30 individuals, including Bacchi, exposed a network of 700 illegal betting shops across Italy. Bacchi also held administrative positions in Maltese gambling companies, namely BL Man Limited and Dodoone Limited.
Bacchi ran the betting shops with the assistance of his iGaming firms, which were licensed in Malta. The Cosa Nostra allegedly coerced Italian betting agencies into promoting Bacchi’s unlicensed platforms, operating illegally within the country. The police claimed that in return, Bacchi funneled between €300,000 ($319,114) and €800,000 ($850,887) per year to the Mafia.
This was a multi-million-euro operation that made Bacchi incredibly wealthy. Before his arrest in 2018, Bacchi had acquired a construction company and the villa of a former Palermo soccer player for €500,000 ($531,872). He ultimately received an 18-year prison sentence for his efforts.
Operation Game Over II
One year after the initial crackdown, Maltese and Sicilian law enforcement agencies collaborated on another operation, “Game Over II.” It revealed that Bacchi was just the tip of the iceberg.
In November 2021, the Palermo police arrested Angelo Repoli and Sergio Moltisanti as part of this second phase of action. Both Italians resided in Malta, where they had registered iGaming companies in their names. They used these companies to obtain online gambling licenses in Malta and launder money for the Cosa Nostra.
According to Rodolfo Ruperti, head of the mobile police unit, the Mafia acquired usernames and passwords to bypass Italian gambling laws that prohibited playing on foreign websites. Allegedly, they were making around €14 million ($14.9 million) per month by operating internet cafes, where users gained access to the Malta-based gambling sites run by Repoli and Moltisanti.
Repoli and Moltisanti received thousands in return for running their companies, Quantum Leap Ltd and Pinpoint Ltd. The duo was placed under house arrest in 2021, and no updates regarding their convictions have been provided.
The story of Matteo Messina Denaro and his Cosa Nostra reveals how organized crime operates in the modern world. By exploiting online gambling companies in Malta, they managed to launder ill-gotten gains while reaping substantial profits.
The “Game Over” and “Game Over II” operations were critical blows to this criminal organization, which extended its activities on a global scale. It remains to be seen how authorities will continue to combat such criminal networks and tighten regulations on online gambling to prevent such exploitations.
How long was Matteo Messina Denaro on the run?
Matteo Messina Denaro spent 30 years on the run before being captured.
What were some of Denaro’s crimes?
Among his crimes, Denaro was responsible for the murders of two prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors.
How did the Cosa Nostra launder money through online gambling?
The Cosa Nostra used online gambling companies based in Malta to launder money.
What was the operation that aimed to end the Cosa Nostra’s illegal gambling activities?
The operation was called “Game Over.”
How did Benedetto Bacchi fit into this story?
Benedetto Bacchi was known as the “Betting King” and played a pivotal role in the Cosa Nostra’s illegal gambling operations.
What happened in “Game Over II”?
“Game Over II” was another operation that targeted individuals involved in online gambling and money laundering for the Cosa Nostra.
How did Repoli and Moltisanti launder money for the Cosa Nostra?
Repoli and Moltisanti registered iGaming companies in Malta to obtain online gambling licenses and launder money for the Cosa Nostra.
What were the earnings of Repoli and Moltisanti from their gambling operations?
They allegedly made about €14 million per month from their Malta-based gambling sites.
What was the outcome for Repoli and Moltisanti?
In 2021, Repoli and Moltisanti were placed under house arrest, and there have been no updates on their convictions.