888 Shares Plunge as CEO Walks Amid Middle East Money Laundering Probe

Shares in online gambling giant 888 Holdings [LON: 888] plunged almost 27% in early trading Monday. That’s after the Gibraltar-based company announced CEO Itai Pazner had quit amid an internal review that found deficiencies in its anti-money laundering (AML) program.

888 Holdings CEO Itai Pazner
888 Holdings CEO Itai Pazner
Itai Pazner, above, left his role at 888 on Monday morning under mysterious circumstances. He had been CEO of the online gambling giant for around four years. (Image: 888 Holdings)

In a filing to the London Stock Exchange, 888 said it had chosen to suspend VIP activities in the Middle East, pending the outcome of an internal compliance investigation.

“[…]it has come to light that certain best practices have not been followed in regard to KYC (Know Your Client) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) processes for 888 VIP customers in the in the Middle East region,” said 888.

“The Board currently estimates that the impact is less than 3% of Group revenues, should the suspensions remain in place. Based on the Board’s current understanding, the process deficiencies identified are isolated to this region only,” it added.

Biggest Single-Day Downswing

Whatever the exact nature of the crisis at 888, investors were spooked, wiping more than a quarter off the value of the company in one morning. It was the biggest single-day downswing in 888’s history.

888 said its current chairman Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn will become executive chair on an interim basis, as the company searches for a replacement for Pazner.

Meanwhile, CFO Yariv Dafna has said he will remain in his role until the end of the year. He had been due to leave at the end of March.

The board and I take the group’s compliance responsibilities incredibly seriously,” Mendelsohn said in a statement. “When we were alerted to issues with some of 888’s VIP customers, the board took decisive actions. We will be uncompromising in our approach to compliance as we build a strong and sustainable business.”

Past Troubles

Pazner held the top role at 888 for four years. Previously, he was COO, and before that he spent six years as VP of the group’s B2C division.

Last year, the UK Gambling Commission fined the company £9.4 million (US$11.6 million) for social responsibility and AML failings. It was one of the highest fines the regulator had ever levied, and it came four and a half years after it had dished out a £7.8 million (US$9.5 million) penalty to 888 for failing to protect vulnerable customers.

Andrew Rhodes, UKGC chief executive, said last year that any future infractions by 888 would give the regulator cause to “seriously consider the suitability of the operator to uphold the licensing objectives and keep gambling safe and crime-free.”

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