Troubled Maltese Gambling Co Faces $137M in New Tax Claim

Italy’s financial police have accused Malta-based gambling operator SKS365 of tax evasion to the tune of 124 million euros (US$137.6 million). 

maltaThe Malta headquarters of SKS365 (beige building, center). (Credit: IRPI)The Aug. 8 announcement stems from a wider police probe into mafia ties within the gambling industry — with more than 60 people charged last November — and follows an investigation by OCCRP and the Investigative Reporting Project Italy into the company’s activities since it was acquired by new owners, the Dutch investment fund Ramphastos.

The fiscal probe conducted by the Guardia di Finanza law enforcement agency in the coastal city of Reggio Calabria concluded that SKS365 had failed to declare about 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in taxable income between 2015 and 2016. Investigators said the company made the money by “carrying out gambling activities illegally in Italy.”

Ramphastos Investments said it acquired SKS365 for 158 million euros ($180 million) in August 2016 and November 2017. During the police sweep in 2018, the prosecutor’s office clarified that “no claims of responsibility” emerged against the company’s new owners. 

SKS365 also told OCCRP that its current management has no links to the company’s previous activities, and that it is now suing the company’s previous owners and seeking compensation.

Still, the company’s current owners may have to foot the hefty tax bill. Colonel Cesare Antuofermo, a Guardia di Finanza officer involved in the case, told OCCRP that the legal entity liable for the tax offenses remains the same, even if the corporate structure — and its shareholders — have changed.

Antuofermo added that the latest allegations are “the largest ever tax evasion claim issued against an online gambling company in Italy.”

SKS365, which is better known by its online gambling brand Planetwin365, obtained an Italian license in 2015, taking advantage of an amnesty program promoted by the Italian government as a way to lift foreign operators with licenses from other European jurisdictions out of a legal gray area. Until then, SKS365 had relied on a concession granted by the Maltese authorities in 2011 to control a network of betting shops across Italy. 

Italian investigators previously alleged that despite its new license, SKS365 used a network of unlicensed shops through a partnership with Bet1128, a company whose owner, Francesco Martiradonna, was sentenced in June for associating with the mafia. 

Prosecutors also previously alleged that SKS365’s four founders — Paolo Tavarelli, Ivana Ivanovic, Giuseppe Decandia and Paolo Sipone — struck deals with prominent members of mafia clans to ensure the Planetwin365 brand would dominate in territories controlled by the criminal syndicates, and that they allowed the mafia to launder money through their business.

After having been detained in November, Tavarelli, Decandia and Sipone have been released, with their trials pending. Police told OCCRP that Ivanovic was arrested on an international warrant as she tried to cross the border from her native Serbia into Montenegro earlier this month.

The OCCRP investigation additionally identified several Planetwin365 gambling shops, which investigators later said were directly controlled by local mafia syndicates, that had remained open after the company’s acquisition by Ramphastos. The investigation also confirmed that one of the company’s four founders maintained a financial interest in the company after it was purchased.

SKS365 will now have 60 days to make its case to the Italian Revenue Agency, which has taken over the tax evasion case from the Guardia di Finanza. The tax authority will then issue a notice that formally certifies the amount of taxes owed by SKS365 and the payment deadline.

In a statement, SKS365 told OCCRP it “reserves the right to take legal action aimed at protecting its interests and those of its investors. The company does not provide comments or specific information on its legal actions.”