G3 gaming magazine publishes Francesco Corallo interview – Fugitive casino boss maintains innocence

POSTED: 09/10/12 1:10 AM

St. Maarten– Under the headline Gladiator Games the September issue of UK-based Global Games & Gaming (G3) Magazine published an exclusive interview with Atlantis World Group and B Plus owner Francesco Corallo. The casino boss says that the Italian judiciary engaged in a vendetta against him with the sole purpose of pushing B Plus out of the profitable Italian gaming market.

It is unclear whether the interview took place before or after the Italian authorities placed Corallo on the Interpol wanted-list in early August. It is also unclear whether a G3-editor met with Corallo in person or that the answers to the questions arrived via email. The magazine notes that it published the answers unabridged and unedited “due to legal issues involved in the case.” G3 did not publish Corallo’s picture either; the only pictures known to exist – at least for public review – are the grainy photograph that was posted on the Interpol website and a picture published by this newspaper on August 3; it shows Corallo in the company his poker room manager Pepe and former Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger at the Waikiki beach bar on Orient Bay on the French side, a few days after the first Wescot-Williams cabinet fell.
The story refers to the arrest warrant the Italian authorities issued in late May, but not to the fact that Corallo is now on the Interpol wanted-list.
When that story broke, Corallo’s attorneys released a letter sent to Solicitor-General Taco Stein in which he offered to turn himself in under certain conditions. But Attorney General Dick Piar made clear that negotiations are out of the question. Since then, Corallo has not issued new statements about his future plans. His Dutch attorney Arthur van Stigt told this newspaper in a recent email that he had not had any more contact with his client, and his Italian attorney Bruno Larosa did not answer emails with requests for information. So far, similar requests addressed to Rudolf Baetsen, Chief Financial Officer at Atlantis in Cupecoy, has not reacted to such requests either.
In June, when Reuters reported that there was an arrest warrant out for Corallo in connection with a questionable loan from the Banco Popolare di Milan (BPM) to B Plus, Corallo issued a press statement in which he denied any wrongdoing. He also stated that his €105 million ($132.3 million) loan with BPM was in good standing. In the interview with G3 Magazine the casino boss repeats this position.
B Plus contracted the loan to purchase so-called VLT-licenses from the Italian state. These are licenses to operate video lottery terminals. B Plus bought 11,953 of these licenses from AAMS, the Italian gaming authority for €15,000 ($18,900) a piece. This money was paid directly to the gaming authority, B Plus said.
The Italian authorities claim that B Plus (and by extension Corallo) bribed BPM-chairman Massimo Ponzellini to issue the loan. Corallo maintains that the loan went through the standard internal bank procedures and that he never pressured or bribed Ponzellini.
Corallo points out in the interview that B Plus pays €90 million ($113.4 million) in gaming taxes to the state every month on top of its corporate taxes. “This makes the company the second largest tax payer in the country after car giant Fiat,” Corallo states in the interview.
Apart from the details about the contested loan, the interview becomes interesting when Corallo goes into the reasons behind what he calls the vendetta against him.
The magazine asks what is true about allegations that Atlantis was instrumental in championing the legalization of VLT-terminals in the Italian gaming market and that the company bribed politicians to steer this process in the desired direction.
“The Public Prosecutor’s case against me is confused and confusing,” Corallo is quoted as answering. “I am not aware of any allegation or charge that I or B Plus bribed Mr. Guido Marino. There appears to be an imputation that I bribed Mr. Milanese to ensure the legislation of VLTs in the Italian market; but the public prosecutor has to date not produced a single piece of evidence to support the allegations. They are complete nonsense and untrue.”
The Abruzzo decree the Italian parliament adopted was designed to generate funds from the VLT-licenses for rebuilding the Abruzzo region that was hit by a severe earthquake in April 2011. That has nothing to do with the legislation of these licenses, Corallo points out, because the tender for them took already place in 2004.
The casino boss also noted that the Abruzzo decree could be read as an anti-Corallo law because it required B Plus to pay for the VLT-licenses, “when in fact my company had operated on the basis and understanding that it had already acquired those rights as part of the 2004 tender process with no further payments due.”
The Abruzzo decree also approved VLTs used by one of B Plus’ main competitors. “B Plus and other concessionaires had to locate and develop new technology to comply with AAMS requirements at significant expense. The legislation put competitors at an advantage rather than B Plus,” Corallo stated.
Corallo said that the Italian stability law was written against him because in contains a residency requirement. “Of the ten concessionaires, the only company impacted by this requirement was B Plus.”
Another piece of legislation (Decree Law 16/02, issued on March 2, of this year) also seems to target Corallo. “It contained a new provision that requires the directors and shareholders of the concessionaire companies to show that their wives and relatives until the third degree of kinship complied with anti-mafia checks.”
Not passing that check would result in revoking the license. “This obviously would have been problematic because of my father’s historic criminal conviction from 1983,” Corallo told G3 Magazine. “This part of the decree was plainly unconstitutional and a flagrant breach of the European Convention on Human Rights; it was ultimately amended.”
Corallo said that in his opinion parts of the gaming legislation are still unconstitutional. “I will challenge them in the courts at the appropriate time, if required.”
“Certain parties have deliberately sought to manufacture an engineer this baseless criminal investigation against me to further their own interests and agenda,” Corallo continues, though he declines to go into the details because of the ongoing criminal investigation. “We are continuing to gather evidence to show their role and their involvement and we will present it in court at the appropriate time.”
Corallo furthermore maintains that BPM has not suffered any negative effects from the loan in granted B Plus (on the contrary – the company paid up to now €7.5 million [$9.4 million] in fees and interest). “It is difficult to understand why I am being victimized and why this trumped up vase has been brought against me by the public prosecutor.”
And why is all this happening? Corallo: “I believe that there are parties that are trying to damage both myself and B Plus. They want to ensure that B Plus is removed from the Italian gaming market.
“For the record, I have no criminal record and the only blemish to my name is that my father was convicted decades ago for an offence with which I had absolutely no connection. In have not had any association or contact with my father for many years (a fact verified by the Court of Rome and by Enrico Bellavia, the national anti-mafia prosecutor) and I believe it is unfair for the sins of the father to be visited on the son. That is not how a fair-minded society should operate.”
Corallo says towards the end of the six-page interview that his legal team in Italy is taking all possible steps to fight the charges. “I will also take all necessary steps to pursue third parties, including those that have conspired to injure B Plus to prove that the allegations against me are completely false and to seek compensation for the loss it has suffered and I have also sustained, including loss suffered as a result of any attempts to revoke B Plus’ gaming license with AAMS.”
“The charges against me are baseless. Although I am being persecuted in Italy I will continue to fight to clear my name and to preserve B Plus’ business in Italy which provides jobs there, where it pays income tax, collects significant amounts of gaming tax for the Italian state and carries out its business lawfully.”

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