Opinion: Atlantis Casino

POSTED: 11/16/11 4:03 AM

The Atlantis World Group finds itself once again smack in the middle of an investigation in Italy and like last year it is all about money. Lots of money. Before anyone starts splitting hairs about who is really involved – Atlantis, the Atlantis World Group, Atlantis/Betplus or simply its top do Francesco Corallo – we have to point out that according to Italian media the investigation does not focus on Atlantis or on Corallo, but on the Banca popolare di Roma and its chairman of the board Massimo Ponzellini.
Still, there are an uncomfortable number of links between the bank, its $200 million loan to Atlantis/Betplus in Italy and Francesco Corallo, and by extension to the Atlantis World Group in Cupecoy.
First of all, there is the reason why the Italian Central Bank got suspicious last summer about certain loans the bank in Rome had granted. When the name Atlantis/Betplus popped up in combination with a mega loan red flags went up for a couple of quite understandable reasons.
The first one is that the Atlantis ownership is hidden behind offshore companies in the (former) Netherlands Antilles. In November, we reported that the Atlantis property was sold in 2007 for $6 million to a company called Ratek Ltd. in St. Lucia. Ratek is a so-called St. Lucia International business company, or IBC. Details of IBC-directors, beneficial owners and shareholders are not part of the public record, so it is impossible to find out who owns Ratek. Italian media, in the meantime, have no problem identifying Corallo as Atlantis’ beneficial owner, though the basis for this claim remains unclear.
The Italian Central Bank had a second reason for its suspicions: Francesco Corallo is the son of Gaetano Corallo. Several Italian media have freely reported about Gaetano’s link to organized crime and in particular to the mafia clan of Nitto Santapaola.
When a financial taskforce finally jumped into action last week, Corallo’s house and office were among the targets. Two remarkable things happened when investigators entered Corallo’s premises.
First, Corallo claimed diplomatic immunity, saying that he is an ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization FAO for the Commonwealth of Dominica.
It took us just one phone call to Rome to discover that this was a blatant lie. The FAO does not know Corallo (other than from media reports about the current investigation), but he is certainly not an FAO-ambassador.
The FAO confirmed this yesterday to Italian media as well, leaving Betplus caught with its pants down, because the company had just issued a statement saying that Corallo had justly claimed diplomatic immunity.
The second curiosity was that Amedeo Labaccetto appeared on the scene while investigators were searching Corallo’s premises. Labaccetto is a member of Berlusconi’s PdL party and up to 2008 he was the attorney for Atlantis in Italy. He is, according to Italian media, a longtime friend of Corallo.
And what did Labaccetto do? He took a laptop from the scene of the investigation, claiming it as his personal property.
When we reported about the slot machine fraud in Italy last year, and about the tax inspectorates reported $45 billion claim on Atlantis, the company went out if its way to deny the charges. It threatened to take this newspaper to court (but never did), and it published full page ads obviously not in our newspaper) to deny Gaetano Corallo’s involvement with the mafia.
And then, out of the blue, the candidacy surfaced of Rudolf Baetsen, the Chief Financial Officer of the Atlantis World Group, for the presidency of the board of the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten. Nothing came of that either, because Baetsen was forced to withdraw his candidacy amidst controversy. The thought of a casino-accountant in a top function at the central bank was something even his sponsor, Curacao’s Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, could not push through.
What we see here from Italy to Cupecoy and to Curacao is a pattern. It includes companies with hidden beneficial ownership, huge amounts of money, a pretended FAO ambassadorship, and a failed attempt to penetrate our banking system.
Yet, everybody in St. Maarten who would have something to say about this seems to be bent on leaving the casino industry and Atlantis in particular, alone. There is still no Gaming Control Board, still no insight in how the casinos contribute to the tax base. The government has not shown any initiative to change the situation, in spite of the annual struggle to balance its budget, and the parliament is emitting the sound of silence.
Is there nobody at all who thinks that what happens in Italy could easily spread to St. Maarten – if it has not already happened? Is there nobody who wants to straighten this mess out and give at least the impression that our democratic system is in control?

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Comments (1)


  1. Clift Christiaan says:

    I think its a bloody shame what is happening in St Maarten. I can’t understand that when an investigation is going one someone can come in and leave with a computer. Even if it was true that the computer was his. You really have a problem in St Maarten. And the people of St Maarten better get their act together and do something about this. Becaus eventually they will pay the price. We have a similar situation on Curacao and slowly you start seeing that the public is starting to protest against the government. It will be a long and difficult road but at least we have started.