Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
Malta’s proximity to Italy, the ease with which customs controls are avoided, and the ins and outs that come with EU membership “has facilitated the ‘migration’ of various matrixes of Italian organised crime to Malta”, according to the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia’s (DIA) report for the second half of 2021.
The DIA report, tabled in the Italian parliament on Friday, states that Malta’s “privileged” tax system and its business-friendly corporate regulatory framework “are factors that have favoured the considerable money laundering activities of various mafia clans”.
Over the last few years, investigative activities show the Italian mafia is making wide use of Malta’s online gaming sector, where mobsters linked to the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta clan are most prevalent.
According to the DIA, Malta’s geographical proximity could, additionally, be a leading factor in Italian mafia clans’, and in particular the Sicilian clans’, “preferred choice” of Malta as a place for their associates to lay low for periods of time.
Results of recent investigations, the DIA reports, have shown how the Pesce and Bellocco clans from Reggio Calabria brought large quantities of cocaine from South America to Malta through other European countries.
Over the second half of last year, the ‘Ndrangheta, according to the DIA, confirmed its ability to extend its interests even outside the regional contexts by making pacts and alliances with different mafias.
This, it said, emerged from the ‘Crypto’ operation, which involved Malta, and which was carried out by the Catanzaro Guardia di Finanza on 14 September 2021.
The operation, the DIA reported, “unveiled and disrupted a complex criminal consortium composed of top management subjects operating in the territories of Rosarno and Gioia Tauro dedicated to international drug trafficking on the new Rosarno – Catania – Malta route.
“The transnational organisation planned cocaine imports from Holland, Germany, Belgium and Spain, and managed to supply the most important local drug dealing centres and Malta.”
Italian anti-mafia investigators are also concerned over the greater criminal synergies being created between Calabrian and Sicilian clans.
As evidence of this new fil rouge, the DIA highlights the ‘La Vallette’ operation conducted on 1 December 2021. This, it says, was a case in point that underscores the existence of a narcotics trafficking cartel operating between Sicily, Calabria and Malta.
The crime ring comprised ‘Ndrangheta Mazzaferro clan members and individuals from Malta, Ragusa and Albania. According to the DIA, drugs were trafficked on a route starting in Albania and, after transiting in Puglia or Calabria, they reached the organisation’s operational base in Ispica, Sicily. From there, the DIA reports, the drugs would be resold in Malta.
Malta-Sicily contiguity ‘highly favourable for development of illicit trafficking’
“This operation further reaffirms that the contiguity between the islands of Malta and Sicily is highly favourable for the development of illicit trafficking,” the DIA said.
The DIA draws the same conclusion from the ‘Alter Ego’ anti-drug operation conducted on November 2021. That operation, the DIA says, allowed it “to outline the role played by some prominent figures in the Santa Paola and Cappello families – highlighting their relationships and contacts, as well as the dynamics of trafficking and supplying large quantities of drugs beyond borders, for the subsequent sale even to Malta”.
But it is in illegal bookmaking and money laundering through illicit online gaming servers that the mafia clans well and truly excel in Malta.
For example, the DIA highlights the 18 November 2021 ‘Game Over II’ operation involving individuals linked to the Passo di Rigano and the Noce families. The ring illegally collected various kinds of bets through websites belonging to bookmakers with servers based in Malta.
It also notes the 30 September 2021 ‘Ludos’ operation that identified a criminal association engaged in online gaming and betting through illegal sites with offshoots in Malta.
Also, in the second half of last year alone and along similar lines, on 20 July 2021, an investigation by the Messina Public Prosecutor’s Office resulted in the seizure of €3.5 million in assets belonging to the legal representative of a Maltese company.
A case of Malta-based money laundering, dubbed ‘Agricultural Fund’, was cracked on 12 August 2021. The DIA explained how a man from Messina managed a Maltese shell company with the “exclusive purposes of carrying out tax evasion and, above all, to benefit from Italian agricultural payments agency AGEA’s renewable energy production contribution”.
The DIA also used the ‘Piccadilly’ operation to illustrate how Malta is being used to set up shell companies aimed at tax fraud for the directors of footwear and clothing companies who made “multiple transfers” of funds to Malta, the UK, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Poland.