Italy investigates questionable mega loan to Atlantis/Betplus

POSTED: 11/16/11 4:14 AM

Corallo makes false claim to FAO ambassadorship

GREAT BAY/ ROME -By Hilbert Haar – The Atlantis World Group is at the center of a new financial scandal in Italy. The Guardia di Finanza is investigating a questionable 148 million euro (about $200 million) loan from the Roman Banca Popolare to gaming giant Atlantis/Betplus.
On November 10, 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, described in Italian media as Atlantis’ beneficial owner, were among the targets.

When investigators raided Corallo’s home and office in Rome, he claimed diplomatic immunity, saying that he is 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 yesterday, the company said that Corallo had later given up his immunity status to cooperate with investigators.
The FAO office in Rome stated yesterday to this newspaper in a brief email that it did not know Corallo.
“This man is not an FAO goodwill ambassador.”
Within minutes after answering our question, 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.”
The independent online daily Lettera 43 reported that the Italian Foreign Ministry received in recent months a request for an opinion about Corallo’s accreditation as an FAO-ambassador. The ministry gave a negative advice, saying that as the owner of Atlantis, Corallo, is conducting economic activities in Italy and that it is therefore deemed “inappropriate for someone with business interests in our country to enjoy diplomatic immunity.”

Libero-news.it reported on Monday a statement from gaming company Betplus saying that Corallo has “every right to call on diplomatic immunity” but that he gave it up to cooperate with Italian investigators.” The company claimed that the Government of Dominica designated him their ambassador to the FAO in a letter dated June 21, 2011. He notified the FAO of his arrival in Italy in a letter dated September 21, but this information now turns out to be incorrect.
While investigators were searching Corallo’s house in Rome, Amedeo Laboccetta, a member of the Italian Parliament for the Freedom People Party PdL, arrived; he took away a laptop from under the nose of the investigators, claiming it was his. The independent online daily Lettera 43 reported yesterday that Labaccetto was until 2008 the attorney for Atlantis in Italy and that he has been a close personal friend of Corallo for years.

The online source Ultimo Notizie wrote when the story broke that the investigation arose from findings of an inspection by the Italian Central Bank last summer that showed problems with certain loans. In particular, the Central Bank became alarmed because Atlantis is owned by offshore companies in the (former) Netherlands Antilles and because of the ties of Corallo’s father with organized crime. The investigation now focuses not only on Atlantis as the recipient of the loan, but also on the ex-president and the current chairman of the board of the Banca Popolare, Massimo Ponzellini. Italian media said that Corallo himself is not the subject of any investigation.
The Central Bank investigates, according to Ultime Notizie, a “criminal conspiracy and obstruction of the supervisory authorities.” So far, this has “brought to light the existence of a phenomenon cultivated in the internal structures of the Banca popolare.”
Ultime Notizie refers to Corallo as “the son of Gaetano who is involved in organized crime and linked to the clan of Nitto Santapaola.”

Santapaola is a prominent Italian Mafioso who was arrested in 1993 and is spending a string of life sentences behind bars, among others for his involvement in the infamous murder of mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1992 near Palermo. Falcone was blown away with a half-ton roadside bomb on the orders of another Mafioso, Toto Riina.
Last year, the Atlantis World Group was at the center of another Italian scandal. The Finance Ministry claimed almost $45 billion in evaded taxes from the Atlantis World Group. Atlantis is the largest concessionaire for the privatized control of the slot machine industry in Italy. But the control is a failure, Italian media reported last year, and the Finance Ministry reportedly missed out on an astonishing $123 billion in taxes.

Rudolf Baetsen, the Chief Financial Officer of Atlantis in Cupecoy, denied the allegations last year, saying that the St Maarten based Atlantis World Group “is not involved in operating state concessions in Italy and has not been presented with any claims for alleged unpaid taxes and fines.”
Baetsen was pushed earlier this year as a candidate for the presidency of the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten by Curacao’s Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, but he later withdrew his controversial candidacy.

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