Rik Delhaas, David Davidson, Eric Arends
© Argos (VPRO/Human)
How could Curacao become a global hangout for online gambling companies and who is pulling the strings in that shadowy industry? In recent months, we conducted intensive research with Investico into what you could call a new Antilles route.
A handful of companies that issue online gambling licenses to whoever is willing to pay for them. An ideal haven for money with a suspicious smell.
In 1993, the parliament of Curacao (Netherlands Antilles, red) passed a law that allowed online gambling companies to be established on the island. Since then, companies from the very beginning have passed on their permits for a fee, without any intervention of a government regulator. A handful of entrepreneurs therefore determine who is admitted to the market.
You can buy such a sublicense for about 5000 euros per year. For that you have to set up a company on Curacao. So-called corporate service providers (trust companies) offer a full-service package for this. A shell company on the island, and a shell company in Europe. This is how they shield who the owner and make money flows invisible.
How uncontrolled this industry has been able to develop becomes apparent when we search for sites registered on Curacao with a special search engine. In total we find the names of hundreds of companies, which together operate thousands of casinos.
By comparing our list with information leaked from tax havens, we also find a few owners of gambling companies. At least, on paper. Take for example this site: realmoneyonlinepokies.com, a kind of online slot machine. It’s owner is a former security officer – here we have him – who, until a year before the site was set up, still lived in a cramped apartment about 100 kilometers outside Minsk. Not quite the profile of an online gambling mogul.
And other tracks that we followed also led to these types of apartment buildings in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. This opacity makes this route an ideal money-laundering machine, experts say. Curacao companies pop up in Brazilian, American, Italian and also Dutch criminal cases. For example, several Dutch professional football players have been interrogated by the Public Prosecution Service because of their involvement in the illegal gambling site Edobet.com.
And the Italian mafia also made use of gambling companies that were located in Willemstad. For example, after gambling licenses were revoked by the authorities in Malta.
Want to know more? Go to Argosonderzoekt.nl and listen to the podcast.
Note by Nardy
The context of the above article can be found in the following series of articles and podcasts by platforum for investigative journalism Investico, weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer and radio broadcaststation Argos (VPRO-Human):
- Explainer VPRO-Human (video): ‘Hoe Curacao een gokstaat werd’ (link: https://www.vpro.nl/argos/media/luister/argos-radio/onderwerpen/2022/Curacaos-roulette.html)
- Investico: Roulette met de Rechtsstaat https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/roulette-met-de-rechtsstaat-geannoteerd-verhaal/
- Investico: Hier vindt u de documenten over de Curacaose online goksector https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/vind-hier-de-documenten-over-de-curacaose-online-goksector/
- Investico: Roulette of Law (English version) https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/roulette-of-law-annotated-version/
- Investico: Russische, Oekrainse en Belarussische owners behind Curacao online casino’s https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/russische-oekraiense-en-belarussische-eigenaren-achter-curacaose-online-casinos/
- Investico: Curacao abolished tax for shell companies https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/curacao-schafte-belasting-voor-brievenbusbedrijven-af/
- Trouw (frontpage): Curacao loopt belasting mis door snelle wet (PDF)
- De Groene Amsterdammer: Roulette met de rechtstaat (PDF) and https://www.groene.nl/artikel/roulette-met-de-rechtsstaat
- Podcast Argos/Investico: https://www.platform-investico.nl/artikel/online-casinos-de-perfecte-witwasmachines/
- Podcast Argos/Investico Speurwerk on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7lKTVx35ZTkcepXCAHkaZ1
- Podcast Argos on NPO Radio 1: Curaçaos roulette https://www.nporadio1.nl/fragmenten/argos/3adc60b4-16b7-4fae-9318-d4d9bf12cce6/2022-05-28-curacaos-roulette
- Podcast VPRO: https://www.vpro.nl/argos/media/luister/argos-radio/onderwerpen/2022/Curacaos-roulette.html
- VPRO – Human: In het land van de online casino’s controleert de goksector zichzelf
- VPRO – Human: Curaçaose online casino’s blijken bezit van Russische eigenaren
- Podcast Argos on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2y6Nc4fNKlabM9ZSlCRC7h