Malta is the hot topic right now when it comes to gaming, so it’s interesting to see that a new chief executive of the Malta Gaming Authority has been appointed.
Heathcliff Farrugia is the man who will preside over Malta’s wishes to become “the blockchain island” alongside its murkier involvement in enforcing, or not enforcing, regulations.
What is the authority?
The Malta Gaming Authority is the body that oversees regulations that have allowed it to become known as the iGaming hub. In 2004, Malta became the first EU member state to regulate iGaming with relatively stringent rules about the monitoring and licensing of gaming operators.
More recently, they announced a desire to become known as “the blockchain island” by offering distributed ledger technology (DLT) regulation that has attracted some of the largest crypto-currency exchanges, Binance and OKEx.
Why a new chief executive?
After Joseph Cuschieri stepped down earlier this month to become CEO of the Malta Financial Services Authority, Farrugia landed his new role as chief executive.
Farrugia, who holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK, was also a member of the Supervisory Council and he co-chaired the agency’s Fit & Proper Committee—a unit tasked with assessing companies and individuals applying for an MGA license. He has previously held several senior positions, including at Vodafone Malta.
He has been on the MGA board since 2014, when he first joined as chief operations officer; he later became chief regulations officer. It was his role in this post that made headlines earlier this year, when former staff member Valery Atanasov accused the authority of corruption in a letter sent by the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, DC.
In the letter, Atanasov said that he observed “IT irregularities and lack of enforcement” of gambling regulations, which he claimed “could allow for money laundering and other crimes”. He charged that he was disciplined and eventually fired after approaching Malta Gaming Authority execs with his concerns and he requested that the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) officially monitor the case.
However, the Malta Gaming Authority replied that Atanasov was terminated from his job as an IT administrator in February 2015 due to “charges of incompetence, poor performance and abuse” dating back to 2011.
The authority says it will cooperate fully with GRECO and any other independent authority “to prove that nothing irregular took place.”
Crackdown by Italy
There will be more bad press for Farrugia to respond to, because a recent crackdown by Italian police on the MGA’s Italian-facing online licenses has led to the authority launching an internal probe and formation of an anti-money laundering unit.
But for some, this isn’t enough, as Italian Senator Franco Mirabelli told the Italian Parliament that the authorities “weren’t getting enough cooperation from the MGA”.
Whether Farrugia can help the authority recover its reputation is the question in everyone’s mind.