Atlantis owner on Interpol wanted list; contests charges – Corallo willing to travel to SXM for extradition hearingPOSTED: 08/7/12 11:48 AM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Atlantis/BPlus owner Francesco Corallo said in a statement he emailed to this newspaper last night that he is “absolutely willing to appear in front of the local authorities and local courts pending any possible extradition hearings.” A letter from his Dutch attorney mr. A.J.N. van Stigt to solicitor-general mr. Taco Stein, dated June 22, details the conditions under which Corallo is prepared to travel to St. Maarten. Corallo made a copy of this letter available to this newspaper after we requested information concerning his whereabouts from his Chief Financial Officer Rudolf Baetsen.
When the Today Newspaper broke the news on June 1 that the Italian fiscal police had issued an arrest warrant against casino boss Francesco Corallo, the company was quick to release a press statement via attorney Bruno Larosa to deny all allegations. But now Corallo has been posted as a wanted man on the Interpol website. Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte confirmed that the authorities in St. Maarten have an arrest warrant for Corallo, but he referred for further comments to Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos.
Mos did not have much to add; instead he wondered why Corallo was suddenly in the news again. He confirmed that there is an international alert out for the casino boss.
The post on the Interpol website states briefly that Corallo is wanted for “organized crime, transnational crime and fraud.” While this does not mean that Corallo is necessarily guilty, posting someone as wanted on the Interpol site is not done lightly by the authorities, so there must be at least serious suspicions against the beneficial owner of the Atlantis World Group/B-Plus gambling conglomerate.
But Corallo write in a personal note to this newspaper: “I also note that the crimes posted in the Interpol red notice are not the ones that are the accusations in the warrant in Italy, which is specifically “conspiracy with the intent of corruption of a private individual” which is not even a recognized crime in country St. Maarten and in most countries in the world.”
Corallo maintains his innocence: “I continue to state that this accusation is false and unfounded and that I have never paid or promised to pay any kind of bribe to anyone to obtain loans for my company. They were all obtained in all legality and transparency, are in good standing and paid off for about 70 percent. They have made the bank a substantial amount of money.”
Interpol has posted a grainy picture that shows Corallo sporting dark sunglasses. Most remarkable is however that his hair is gray. In the picture this newspaper published last Friday – showing a meeting between Corallo and former Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger at the Waikiki beach bar in Orient Bay on the French side on the island, shortly after Heyliger’s government fell in the calypso-coup – Corallo does not have gray hair anymore: he seems to have taken a coloring, because the picture shows his hair as black.
Another remarkable detail is that Interpol states Corallo’s nationality as Italian. But Corallo said, via his attorney Larosa, in the June 2 press release: “I have never been arrested or condemned for any wrongdoing or crime anywhere in the world, ever and have a completely clean record. In any event, I am neither an Italian citizen, nor a resident and therefore I cannot be a fugitive.”
Today reported on Saturday June 1 that the former chairman of the Banca Popolare di Milan (BPM), Massimo Ponzellini, had been placed under house arrest by Italian law enforcement, together with Antonio Cannelire. Reuters and Italian media reported at the time that there is also an arrest warrant out for Corallo. The investigation concerns a questionable $200 million loan the Milanese bank granted to Atlantis-Betplus in 2004; Ponzellini is suspected of accepting an almost $7 million bribe for the deal.
Attorney Larosa countered in his press release that the BPM-case is about a €105 million ($184.5 million) loan (Reuters reported its value as €148 million – ed.). “The loan was contracted by B Plus with BPM by the bank’s board in complete transparency and in compliance with all required banking regulations. The loan is up to date and in good standing with a balance due of only €33 million. As such it has been a very good deal for the bank, which has made more than €7 million in interest and fees up to date.”
Larosa downplayed the loan as a civil or at best fiscal matter. Quoting from the Italian civil code, he stated that no financial harm had been done to the bank and that therefore no crime could have been committed.
Currently, Corallo is apparently untraceable. Rumors that his poker room manager Pepe is “also on the run” seem to be incorrect, because he was on the casino floor as usual on Saturday evening at the $25,000 Texas Hold’em poker tournament.
Rumors and anecdotal stories about Corallo have been flying far and wide. Internet publication Weekly blitz reported in November of last year that the Commonwealth of Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is at the center of a huge controversy over selling diplomatic passports to anybody who is ready to pay $100,000 for it under the island’s Economic Citizenship Plan. One of the recipients is Atlantis owner Francesco Corallo, the magazine reported.
It would not be Corallo’s first flirt with diplomacy. When on November 10 of last year the Guardia di Finanza, the Finance Unit of the tax police in Rome, raided private homes and nine company headquarters in Rome, Milan and Bologna, the home and office of Francesco Corallo were among the targets.
Corallo claimed at the time diplomatic immunity, saying that he was an ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO for the Commonwealth of Dominica.
In a statement issued by Betplus to Italian media shortly after the raid, the company said that Corallo had later given up his immunity status to cooperate with the investigation. When this newspaper approached the FAO headquarters for a comment on Corallo’s status, the organization said it did not know him. “This man is not an FAO goodwill ambassador.”
Immediately afterwards the FAO press office sent a statement to Italian media stating explicitly that Corallo “is not the organization’s permanent ambassador for the Commonwealth of Dominica.”
Tall stories that Corallo had established the embassy of Guatemala – rumored to be his wife’s country of origin – in the offices of the Atlantis casino in Cupecoy to create a shield of immunity for his business-administration have been thoroughly investigated by this newspaper and proven to be completely unfounded.
The letter attorney Van Stigt sent to Solicitor-General mr. Taco Stein in June reveals that there has been a discussion with between Stein and local attorney mr. Jeroen Veen on June 19 about Corallo’s situation. Van Stigt presents himself as counsel to Corallo and outlines the charges the Italian authorities have brought against him. Today reported about the finer details of these charges already on June 3.
“Inquiries were made in Italy but it has not yet been confirmed that an arrest warrant was indeed issued,” Van Stigt wrote on June 22. “Mr. Corallo is currently not in Italy; he is a Dutch citizen and he is currently not in St. Maarten.”
But Corallo is perfectly willing to come to the island, the attorney made clear in his letter to Stein: “Mr. Corallo is willing to travel to St. Maarten. The Italian authorities can then file a request for his extradition if they have reason to do so. Currently they cannot file a request because the whereabouts of Mr. Corallo is unknown to them.”
Van Stigt wrote that his client wants to remain free until his trial. “For that reason he will legally oppose an extradition request. He will however be at all times available for the justice authorities.”
Corallo suggests to Stein in the letter that he will voluntarily come to the prosecutor’s office the moment his extradition is requested “in a formally correct manner so that the official documents can be issued to him.” If he is not in St. Maarten, Corallo will travel to the island within 48 hours to appear. He is also willing to surrender his passport and undergo a reporting requirement or to post bail. “
He will voluntarily appear at his extradition hearing in the court of justice,” Van Stigt wrote. “If the governor ultimately decided to extradite him he will – after the decision has become irrevocable – report himself on first request to undergo his extradition. Client shall bear his own travel expenses.”
In exchange, Corallo asks a guarantee that he will not be detained during the extradition procedures, “and that no restrictions are imposed upon him other than the prohibition to leave St. Maarten and a reporting requirement.”