By Hilbert Haar
St. Maarten/MILAN – Italian newspapers keep digging into the scandal at the Banco Popolare di Milan and its alleged connections with Atlantis World Group/BPlus owner Francesco Corallo.
When this newspaper reported on Saturday June 2 that Italian authorities had an arrest warrant out for Corallo and that it had labeled him as a fugitive, the latter was quick to respond through his attorney Bruno Larosa that he was unaware of the arrest warrant, that he is not a fugitive, and that the articles in Italian newspapers are inspired by competitors bent on pushing his company out of the gambling business.
In spite of these denials, the Italian online newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano published new information earlier this month, linking Corallo to the Valle-Lampada gang. The newspaper reports that Corallo gave concessions for several gambling halls to Giulio Giuseppe Lampada. The latter was arrested on November 30 of last year on suspicion of membership of a criminal organization. Lampada is also accused of being the economic brain behind the Valle-clan that is related to the Condellos in Reggio Calabria. Pasquale Condello is an Italian criminal and a member of the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate; he is known as Il supremo and he was on the run from justice from 1990 until his arrest in February 2008. This information, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano, has emerged from a search at the home of Massimo Ponzellini the former top man of the Banco Popolare di Milan (BPM). This bank gave a 148 million loan to Atlantis/Betplus; Italian prosecutors have called this loan questionable, but Corallo said earlier this month in a press release that the loan is in good standing. Prosecutors Roberto Pellicano and Mauro Clerici see the loan as “incomprehensible” and as smelling of money laundering. If Fatto Quotidiano carefully words its next statements: “If the business ties between Atlantis and the Valle-Lampada group were to be confirmed it would add a new and embarrassing chapter to the story. Several members of the Valle family, who are originally from Reggio, but who have settled in Milan, have been arrested in 2010 for membership of a criminal organization, illegal profiteering and other crimes.”
In November of last year, Francesco Lampada and his brother Giulio Giuseppe ended up in prison. Infiltrato.it dived into the links between Ponzellini, Corallo and the parliamentarian Amedeo Laboccetta, with special attention for a stunt the latter pulled when the Milanese authorities raided Corallo’s offices and home in Milan in November of last year. Prosecutors have confirmed, the web site notes, that Laboccetta got his hands on a laptop at Corallo’s place when it was about to fall into the hands of the fiscal police. Laboccetta is according to Infiltrato.it a confidant of former Prime Minister Berlusconi and he also used to be an authorized representative for Corallo’s Atlantis. As a Member of Parliament Laboccetta pressures associates of Minister Gianfranco Fini to prevent that licenses for slot machines would be revoked. That scenario threatened, after the Italian audit chamber discovered that slot machines were at times not connected to a central server, giving operators the opportunity to obscure a large part of their turnover and evade taxes. But those licenses were never revoked.
Laboccetta said that he laid down his functions at Atlantis after he became a Member of Parliament. And yet, Infiltrato.it notes, Laboccetta showed up at Corallo’s place in Milan at the very moment the fiscal police is conducting a house search in November of last year. Investigators now believe that Laboccetta went to Corallo’s home to pick up a laptop, saying it belonged to him. Investigators have now established that this laptop has been sanitized using a piece of software called Cleaner. All data have been removed from this laptop, but according to Infiltrato.it it is clear who is responsible for this. The site notes that Labocetta has been added to the register of suspects in the BPM-scandal and that he will probably have to appear in court soon.
Il Fatto Quotidiano brings yet another aspect to the fore, unlikely as it may seem: the April 9, 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzo region, Italy’s emerging tourist destination. The quake killed at least 92 people and destroyed a lot of infrastructure. “A law that has been approved to help the people in the Abruzzo region has actually been tailored to enrich the gentlemen of the gaming sector.
Marco Milanese, an undersecretary at Economic Affairs, wrote the legislation that allowed the use of advanced digital video poker machines in public spaces. According to Il Fatto Quotidiano, the law was presented as a tool to collect taxes for the benefit of the people in Abruzzo. The actual text of the law was written by Studio Mag, a private company that also works for Atlantis. But the advanced technology allowed the operators of these gambling machines to disconnect them from the state’s network for extended periods of time. This way, they reportedly evaded €98 billion ($127.5 billion) in taxes.
Corallo’s attorney Bruno Larosa is quoted by Il Fatto Quotidiano as saying that his client has nothing to do with the facts; he also denies connections with Marco Milanese. He furthermore criticizes the legislation referred to above, because it is “too limited and too tricky for license holders and especially for the company of which he is a shareholder.” According to Larosa, Corallo has instructed him to file complaints for slander against ministerial functionaries and others who have made “absolutely false statements” to law enforcement.
The online newspaper also reports that BPlus has filed a detailed and documented complaint with the court in Rome against high ranking civil servants at the Italian Ministry of economic affairs and against a number of competing companies in the gaming sector about “suspicious actions that include serious crimes for the benefit of some companies operation in the gaming sector and at the expense of BPlus. “Corallo has expressed his confidence in the judicial authorities and he is convinced that the Roman and the Milanese court will dive deep into the complicated story and that they will bring to light that behind the slanderous statements that have been made against him there is the intention to push BPlus out of the market for the benefit of some competitors.”
While the Italian media are obviously focusing on the link between the players in the BM-scandal in their own country, the story has also unleashed media-attention in the Caribbean. Atlantis/BPlus is established in Cupecoy. The website Yespolitical.com made an attempt to describe who Francesco Corallo is, but it gets stuck in a lot of maybes and innuendos, including even the intriguing question: “Did you know that Corallo has a newspaper in Sint Maarten?” Then it mentions that there are “only three newspapers” on the island before getting one title right – and that was not the Today newspaper. Apparently the writer of the story (dated September 27, 2010) once wrote a letter to that other newspaper claiming he never got an answer. Other articles, in newspapers like the Antilliaans Dagblad, NRC Handelsblad, follow the Money web site and others to numerous to mention refer to Corallo’s links with Curaçao’s Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, Minister Charles Cooper, and Dominica’s Prime Minister Skerritt Roosevelt who allegedly sold the Atlantis/BPlus-owner a diplomatic passport for a hefty fee.