Gambling on Crime
25 Jul 2019

On Italian television, Brazilian football legend Roberto Carlos steps up to the ball and delivers his trademark free kick. It’s not a rerun of his long, curving 1997 Tournoi de France masterpiece — it’s a commercial for an online sports gambling company, Planetwin365, which has become a household name in Italy since launching a decade ago.

Carlos’ cameo is part of an aggressive marketing campaign: Planetwin365 ads are broadcast before top-flight football games and the brand name scrolls across display screens at professional stadiums. In 2017, the gambling company struck a sponsorship deal with S.S.C. Napoli, one of the top two teams in Italian professional football. Today, Planetwin365 is among Italy’s top gambling operators in a hotly contested sports-betting industry, commanding about 13 percent of the market.

The company is controlled by a Dutch investment fund with a global portfolio, a commercial success story that has a dark side, with long-standing ties to organized crime.

In November 2018, Italian law enforcement officers charged more than 60 people as part of an investigation of mafia infiltration of the gambling sector. Among those arrested were Planetwin365’s four founders, who until the previous year were also among its minority shareholders.

Prosecutors accused them of striking deals with prominent members of mafia clans to ensure their brand would dominate in territories controlled by the criminal syndicates. Dealing with the mafia is a crime in itself in Italy; the four were also accused of allowing the mafia to launder money through their business.

Despite the crackdown, Planetwin365 was never shut down, and the company’s current gaming licenses from Italy and Malta haven’t been suspended or revoked. The four founders have been charged with tax evasion, fraud, and “aiding a mafia-type organization” — a serious charge in Italy used to prosecute those who collaborate with mafia groups. Paolo Carlo Tavarelli, Ivana Ivanovic, Giuseppe Decandia and Paolo Sipone were released pending their trial.

In ordering Tavarelli’s release, the Italian court “highlighted the lack of objective evidence in regards to any involvement of Tavarelli with organized crime groups,” said his attorney, Antonio Feriozzi. He said the same about Ivanovic, who is also his client.

Decandia’s lawyer said his client declined to answer reporters’ questions about his role in Planetwin365. An attorney for Sipone could not immediately be identified.

By Matteo Civillini, Lorenzo Bagnoli, Dario De Luca, Coen Van de Ven, OCCRP, 24 July 2019

Read more at OCCRP

Photo: Originalgio [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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