Turkish prosecutors have launched a money-laundering probe into thirteen casinos in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, local media reports revealed on Tuesday. According to the Cypriot press, around $5 billion has been laundered through these casinos and authorities are now investigating staff from 20 companies involved in the management and operation of these casinos.
On Tuesday, the Havadis, a Northern Cypriot publication, wrote that the Turkish Board of Investigation on Financial Crimes (MASAK) has ordered $100 million to be confiscated from suspects. In an earlier probe, the specialized board found that 13 casinos based in the northern side of the island were involved in large financial transactions done in foreign currency. These transfers were completed through the personal banking accounts of individuals working in a total of 20 companies. These firms, investigators believe, are linked to the casinos – they are either owned by the casino operators or are managing the gaming operations.
Along with the employees’ accounts that were involved in the scheme, the accounts of seven casino managers were also found to have transferred the money. The police are now tracking the transactions worth around $5 billion, the Havadis reports. Another paper, the Daily Sabah, writes that huge amounts of money were transferred abroad. Investigators believe that these were the proceeds of illegal gambling, the media says. The suspects who are now under investigation had multiple accounts in seven Turkish banks, one of which was Bank Asya. It was closed by Turkish authorities due to its suspected links with the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
Apparently, the issue is quite controversial, at least among different Northern Cypriot and Turkish media outlets. Local authorities told the Kibris paper that no such investigation was taking place in Northern Cyprus. They were not contacted by the Turkish police and the only information they had about the issue was from media reports, the publication adds.
Clamping Down on Illegal Gambling Dens
Earlier this month, Turkish police detained 11 individuals on the suspicion of operating illegal betting shops and dens, the Daily Sabah writes. The country is trying to deal with the underground gambling market, possibly worth billions of dollars. As football is the most popular sport in Turkey, authorities are concerned that the illegal betting operations will significantly increase in size during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Last year, the government passed legislation that helps investigators freeze the bank accounts of companies and individuals linked with illegal gambling. Although law enforcement officials say they work in close cooperation with banks in order to detect and track accounts linked with illegal betting gangs, it is extremely difficult to monitor this activity. Underground bookies have various methods for circumventing the strict monitoring of bank transfers.
The 2018 World Cup is expected to be the most televised sports event of the year and it will certainly be the biggest one when it comes to wagers. The football tournament kicks off June 14 in Russia and matches will be held in various venues across the country until July 15.