One Maltese named in bizarre Italian Antarctic money laundering scam

In what was possibly one of the most ludicrous money laundering scams run through Malta, one Maltese national was named by an Italian court as having collaborated in laundering money scammed from people believing they were purchasing citizenships for a new sovereign state in Antarctica that in reality does not exist.

The proceeds of the scam were to be laundered through Malta, Italian investigators found throughout what they dubbed Operation ‘L’Isola che non c’è’ (The island that’s not there).

It transpires that a 71-year-old Maltese national has been named in association with the scam. He will have an abbreviated hearing in Italy on 27 April and will avoid judicial investigation and trial – having been a peripheral figure believed to be unconnected to the criminal side of the operation, and after cooperating freely with investigators.

It is not known exactly what his involvement was in the operation, which sold citizenships for a fictitious ‘Antarctic Theocratic Sovereign State of St George’ to some 700 unsuspecting people looking to dodge taxes in Italy.

In the supposedly newfound state in the Antarctic, citizens were to be exempt from the Italian taxman, be subject to a mere 5% rate of taxation and enjoy an exemption from the then-Covid vaccination rules.

But before the Italian police pulled the plug on the operation and made a dozen arrests last August, more than 700 people had already fallen for the scam and believed they had been made citizens of a fledgling Antarctic state.

According to Italy’s Polizia di Stato, Malta figured not insignificantly in the operation since it was where the illicit gains were to have been laundered, and where a representative of the fledgling state was to have been based.

They explained how, “The fraudulent sums amount to around €400,000, were laundered through a foreign account located in Malta where a representative of the ‘state’ would also be based.”

In all, 23 people have been charged with a range of crimes including criminal association, fraud, fabrication and possession of false documents (passports) and money laundering.

The investigation began in April 2021 following a search of the supposed diplomatic headquarters of the Antarctic ‘state’ in Catanzaro, when agents from Italy’s Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali (General Investigations and Special Operations Division, DIGOS) were following a tip-off that drug dealing was taking place on the premises.

More than 700 Italians and residents of Italy fell for the ploy and believed themselves to be citizens of the non-existent Antarctic state. They had each paid between €200 and €1,000 for the unique privilege.

Upon becoming ‘citizens’, they were to have received attractive incentives, according to Italian police, such as generous funding for research projects, leaner bureaucracy and less red tape for business, and using the Antarctic state’s passports to travel freely through Italy and overseas.

The most attractive benefit of all, however, was the 5% tax rate being offered to new citizens. At least two cases, the Italian police report, involved the sale of land in Antarctica with associated noble titles.

The scheme was elaborate, with a range of bogus state institutions, an official government gazette, identity documents a website and a Facebook page having been created to dupe people.

The gang even went so far as to have created counterfeit identification documents such as passports and diplomatic identity cards that “perfectly correspond to international standards,” according to the Italian police.

According to the Italian State Police, the documents had been used by ‘citizens’ in hotels in Italy and abroad, during police checks at airports and for drug trafficking.

The Maltese national, who The Shift understands is a cooperating witness for the prosecution, was named as Philip Chircop. It is also understood that an NGO Chircop had lent his name to was being used as a front and a nomenclature for the fraudsters’ ridiculous scam. The Shift is currently in contact with Chircop to establish the full chain of events.

Among those arrested last August were a former Guardia di Finanza (tax police) general, 72-year-old Mario Farnesi, and a former Carabinieri (paramilitary police) warrant officer, 56-year-old Emanuele Frasca.


This article has been updated.


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1 month ago

Mafiamalta in the news again–SHAME on all those who tarnished our image- starting from the most corrupt pm Malta ever had and his bunch of CROOKS.

1 month ago

This type of irresponsible conclusions that one of our citizen who is beyond reproach is defamed. Know the facts first. It could be he is a victim of the scam.

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