Wirecard Scandal Deepens: Bankrupt Payment Provider Helped Launder Money Through Mafia-Backed Online Casino

Author Thomas Wolf
August 12, 2020 3 min read

Since German online-payment company Wirecard went spectacularly bust last month, new evidence that may link it to some of the darkest areas of the online gambling world has been emerging every week.

Just this week, one of the world’s biggest legitimate operators, GVC Holdings, was forced to deny rumours that Wirecard was linked to its ongoing dispute with the UK’s tax collector HMRC.

Now, it’s the turn of the Italian ’Ndrangheta crime family. A new Financial Times investigation has revealed that Wirecard worked closely with Centurionbet—a proven money laundering business for mob boss Vito Martiradonna and his two sons, Michel and Francisco.

All three have since been imprisoned in their native Italy for various illegal enterprises, including gambling.

Malta-based Centurionbet was found to have helped launder several millions of euros in dirty money. Other crimes associated with the ‘Ndrangheta from southern Italy include people trafficking, international cocaine smuggling, and embezzling EU money meant for migrant aid.

Italian authorities have even told FT journalists that Centurionbet’s operation was so sophisticated that it took fees to launder money for other international criminal networks, including Russian and Albanian mafias.

Checks and Balances

While Miles Johnson’s FT investigation admitted there’s no proof that Wirecard knew about the criminal ownership of Centurionbet, this is evidence that the company’s anti-money laundering and client screening processes were certainly not up to the task.

Centurionbet had a known and controversial history that even a brief Google search could have revealed to Wirecard execs at any point.

The Malta-based casino was founded in November 2009 when it bought out the successful Bet1128 brand from British-based firm Paradise Bet Ltd.

Paradise Bet’s offices were raided by British police not long after the £10 million sale. That buyout conveniently included nearly all of the company’s other assets as well.

Mr Martiradonna was already a known figure in the criminal underworld, having been convicted as a member of an organized crime group in 2007.

He skipped out on major company debts owed by Paradise Bet Ltd. Creditors included some big banks and the UK taxman.

The Martiradonna family denied having any interests in CenturionBet. However, they were later convicted for their role in the money laundering business.

Fall From Grace

We may never know what Wirecard was thinking processing payments for such an obviously shady operation. The company continued to work with Centurionbet right up until 2017 when Maltese regulators suspended Centurionbet’s licence.

Shortly after, the company offices were raided by Interpol and Italian police. The investigation resulted in over 60 arrests and 30 convictions, including Francisco Martiradonna himself.

The German company was once heralded as a leading light in the financial technology, or FinTech, world.

However, last month, the company, which not even a year ago was valued at $24 billion, spectacularly imploded.

A trail of exaggerated up to full-blown fictional shell companies was found stretching across Europe and Asia. Philippine fishermen were sent million-dollar invoices for business services that never existed.

The culmination of the investigation by several global police forces led to the arrest of former Wirecard CEO Markus Braun in mid-June. He is now facing international fraud charges in a German court.

For the latest updates on this spy-thriller-level story, plus other gambling news from all over the globe, keep checking online.casino/news.

Author Thomas Wolf


Thomas Wolf

384 articles

Thomas Wolf is our editor in chief. With an extensive background in online gambling (both working for casino operators and game studios) as well as an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, he's a proper authority on online casinos. When not running the day to day operations or reviewing new operators Thomas is a blackjack aficionado with some seriously big wins recorded at land-based casinos in both Las Vegas, Monaco and Macau.

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