Illegal Lottery in Malta Exposed During Investigation of Journalist’s Murder

The murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 remains active today because it uncovered alleged criminal activity in several areas, including politics and gambling. A new report indicates that it may have also exposed a massive illegal lottery operation that is still running.

Emergency personnel at the scene of the bombing that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia
Emergency personnel at the scene of the bombing that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. The investigation into her murder has exposed an illegal lottery in Malta. (Image: Getty Images)

Almost six years ago, as she was working on a story about corruption in the government, Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb. The assassination gained international attention and forced an investigation after then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat refused to open an inquiry.

That attention, in part, eventually led to Muscat’s resignation. It also led to the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, an influential gambling entrepreneur and one of Malta’s richest people. He is also the man allegedly responsible for orchestrating the Galizia assassination.

The investigation also may have uncovered an illegal lottery operating in the open across Malta, according to Malta Today. If the figures are accurate, it could be responsible for taking 30% out of the legal lottery market.

Connecting the Dots

Galizia had put together information linking Muscat and other high-ranking government officials with, at the very least, questionable activity. The individuals’ names appeared in the Panama Papers, which had uncovered widespread abuse of power, money laundering and other crimes.

After Galizia’s death, the investigation turned to Melvin Theuma, a local criminal who allegedly helped set up the attack for Fenech. Following his arrest, Theuma agreed to give testimony about everyone who had a role in the plot in exchange for a pardon.

As he continued to unravel the mystery, investigators learned about the lottery. Theuma, before his arrest, was allegedly one of the primary people responsible for running it.

However, his incarceration didn’t stop the lottery from continuing. Instead, citing affirmations from financial investigators, Malta Today reported that it’s alive and well.

The illegal “parallel lottery” follows the legal lottery closely. Players choose numbers in the parallel lottery just like they would for Malta’s established lottery. They hope to get them right when the real lottery draw takes place at the end of each week.

One of those investigators, whose name wasn’t revealed, asserted that “30% of well over €30 million (US$32.96 million)” from the legal lottery runs through illegal channels every year.

Behind the illegal operations are legitimate businesses, often in the construction industry. They’re able to move large amounts of cash disguised as construction costs, which helps them easily launder money without being detected.

The Walls Are Closing In

The investigation into the illegal lottery has revealed that there are different “districts,” or zones controlled by the operators. They all have regular customers eagerly participating in the illegal activity and also running up huge debts with the criminal groups.

For some locals, it’s nothing more than a regular way of life. They participate in the illegal and legal lotteries in an attempt to increase their potential winnings.

The operations have been ongoing for at least the past 30 years and the local police allegedly know about them. Until now, nothing has stood in the way, but that could change with Theuma’s testimony.

Financial investigations are increasing, which means enforcement may pick up, as well. Malta is still trying to clean up its image and any hint of widespread criminal activity taking place in the open only damages its reputation once again.

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