Messina Denaro Dead at 61: How His Mob Used Maltese iGaming Firms to Launder Cash

  • Mafia boss Messina Denaro has died at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer
  • His Cosa Nostra used Malta iGaming firms to launder money and make millions
  • Operation ‘Game Over’ uncovered the activity and led to major arrests
Messina Denaro
Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro (pictured) has died at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer.

End of the line

Like something out of a Martin Scorsese film, Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was on the run for 30 years before his recent capture. As reported by the BBC, Denaro – who was for a long time considered Italy’s most wanted man – has now died after a battle with cancer.

he once boasted that he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims

Among his many crimes, for which he was sentenced to life in jail in absentia in 2002, Denaro killed two well-known anti-mafia prosecutors. In fact, he once boasted that he could “fill a cemetery” with his victims.

Despite being a fugitive for three decades, Denaro supposedly continued to run his Cosa Nostra organized crime syndicate from various secret locations. The Sicilian mafia is involved in numerous illicit activities, including racketeering, drug trafficking, and illegal bookmaking.

In order for the Cosa Nostra to capitalize financially from all its illegal operations, they needed a way to launder cash. Here is how Denaro’s organization utilized online gaming companies based in Malta to do just that, while making plenty more cash along the way.

Operation Game Over

Police began to uncover the illegal gambling ploy of Cosa Nostra in 2018, launching an operation nicknamed ‘Game Over’ in a bid to upend it.

It started in February of that year when Palermo police arrested ‘betting king’ Benedetto Bacchi. The raid – which ended in the arrest of 30 people including Bacchi – uncovered a network of 700 illegal betting shops across Italy. However, Bacchi also held administrative positions in Maltese gaming companies, namely BL Man Limited and Dodoone Limited.

the Cosa Nostra would strong arm Italian betting agencies to market Bacchi’s platforms

Bacchi operated the betting shops using his iGaming firms licensed in Malta. Cosa Nostra would strong-arm Italian betting agencies to market Bacchi’s platforms, which operated illegally without a license in the country. Police said that in return Bacchi transferred between €300,000 ($319,114) and €800,000 ($850,887) to the mafia per year.

Altogether, it was a multimillion-dollar scheme that made Bacchi incredibly wealthy. Before his arrest in 2018, Bacchi acquired a construction company, in addition to the villa of a former professional Palermo soccer player for €500,000 ($531,872). Ultimately, he received an 18-year prison sentence for his troubles.

Operation Game Over II

One year after the initial crackdown, Maltese and Sicilian police cooperated again on an operation called ‘Game Over II.’ It revealed that Bacchi was just the tip of the iceberg.

Palermo police arrested Angelo Repoli and Sergio Moltisanti in November 2021 as part of this second phase. The two Italians both lived in Malta where they had iGaming companies registered in their names. They used those companies to get online gaming licenses in Malta and launder money for Cosa Nostra.

made around €14m ($14.9m) per month

According to mobile police force head Rodolfo Ruperti, the mafia acquired usernames and passwords to bypass Italian gaming law, in which it is illegal to gamble on offshore sites. They supposedly made around €14m ($14.9m) per month operating internet cafes where users received access to the Malta-based gaming sites operated by Repoli and Moltisanti.

Repoli and Moltisanti received thousands in return for operating their companies, Quantum Leap Ltd and Pinpoint Ltd. The pair were placed under house arrest in 2021 and no update has been provided in regard to their sentencing.

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