12 Jun, 2024 @ 19:47
5 mins read

EXCLUSIVE: Explosive allegations against gaming firm Mansion shake Gibraltar and raise questions about business links with former finance minister

A GIBRALTAR gaming firm whose name was emblazoned on various Premier League shirts has been accused of operating illegal online gambling in over a dozen countries.

The accusations have emerged during an ongoing secret legal battle in the Gibraltar Supreme Court, the Olive Press can reveal.

The sensational multi-million pound case is being brought by the remnants of the Mansion Group against their former CEO, Karel Manasco, 43.

Manasco has accused the now-defunct gaming giant of engaging in a scandalous practice known as ‘grey area gaming’.

READ MORE: ‘The Rock is not a tax haven’: Gibraltar hits back at ‘dehumanising’ Spanish politician’s ‘disgraceful’ drug smuggling and money laundering comments on the eve of a post-Brexit deal 

Now-defunct gaming company Mansion which became famous by sponsoring Premier League football clubs finds itself at the centre of a growing storm

This involves illegally trading in various countries and led to the alleged defrauding of various governments including those of Austria and Germany. 

Manasco alleges the activity ‘constitutes the true and undisclosed profits’ of the Mansion Group in Europe, something it denies.

The alarming list of alleged unlawful acts includes operating without appropriate licences, circumventing regulations, dodging taxes, and online gambling in countries where it is illegal.

As well as its core market in the UK, the allegations cover activities in many countries including France, South Africa, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Spain.

Untraceable covert companies were allegedly set up in the Caribbean islands of Curacao in 2011 – some through the infamous law firm Mossack Fonseca, made notorious by the Panama Papers scandal.

One company, Casino Midas, was allegedly set up by Mansion in 2011 to operate in France after the country decided to outlaw offshore online casinos.

The regulatory noose started to tighten further as as country after country rolled out tougher and stricter rules around online gaming.

READ MORE: MCGRAIL INQUIRY: Fabian Picardo says he acted ‘selflessly’ and ‘in the tax payer’s best interest’ to support Gibraltar’s ‘biggest rain maker’ – and insists he never broke the ministerial code 

Former Mansion CEO has accused the company of profiting illegally from over a dozen countries

It’s alleged that Mansion continued to profit surreptitiously until 2015, when Casino Midas was hurriedly shut down after French regulators blacklisted the company and threatened to investigate it. 

In an email to the Olive Press, a spokesperson representing Mansion firmly denied the allegations and labelled them ‘unsubstantiated’.

The allegations arose as Gibraltarian Manasco was publicly accused of taking huge bonuses while splashing company money on luxury cars and high value watches.

Mansion eventually won a worldwide freezing order (WFO) against Manasco to the tune of €5 million in 2023.

The former Mansion CEO insisted the claims are ‘total lies’ with Mansion simply trying to ‘destroy’ him after he began to blow the whistle on its business practices.

ASIAN BEGINNINGS

Mansion Group, which was the European offshoot of Asian brand M88, operated the recognisable names of Casino.com, Mansion Casino and Slots Heaven from their Gibraltar head office.

Thought to be owned by Indonesian billionaire Putera Sampoerna and his wife Kathleen Chow Liem, it is not the first time the group has been in the news for the wrong reasons.

Back in 2020, Premier League football club AFC Bournemouth terminated its sponsorship deal after the UK Gambling Commission launched an investigation into Mansion Group.

The commission had announced it was investigating ‘various aspects’ of Mansion Group’s ‘model and operations’. 

But by September 2023, Mansion’s key businesses would be permanently closed, having gradually wound up all its previous casino brands over the following year.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Ex-leaders, King’s Counsels and leaders of the opposition – the surprising Gibraltar figures who invested millions in fraudulent crypto exchange Globix

While the true ownership of Mansion has long been murky, it is thought to be owned by Indonesian billionaire Putera Sampoerna

CONNECTIONS

The Olive Press can also reveal that during the period of alleged wrongdoing, from 2011 to 2021, Mansion Group had links to Gibraltar’s then-Finance and Gaming Minister, Albert Isola CBE.

The then-minister’s family law firm Isolas, which Albert Isola runs with his brother Peter Isola, represented Mansion Group in their legal matters in Gibraltar including the legal action against Manasco.

Mansion even operated from office space in the controversial Europort building owned by Isolas.

The controversial building came under scrutiny after an Isola family trust bought it from Rifaat al-Assad, the sanctioned uncle of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, for a knockdown price in 2018.

The judge who sanctioned Isolas’ highly controversial purchase from a sanctioned general responsible for the massacre of thousands of civilians in Syria, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley, is the same judge presiding over the case between Mansion and Manasco.

Meanwhile, an Isolas sister company called Fiduciary was even more closely involved with Mansion Group, helping its opaque ownership behind the scenes with trust management services.

Fiduciary chairman Peter Isola, brother of the then-minister, also sat on the board of fellow Gibraltar gaming company Entain (previously GVC) as a non-executive director.

READ MORE: MCGRAIL INQUIRY: Who is Gibraltar’s ‘grey man in the shadows’? Testimony from lead detective sheds further light on events leading up to police chief’s sudden retirement

Gibraltar’s ex-minister for finance and gaming, Albert Isola CBE, had extensive commercial links to Mansion

Peter Isola resigned from the remuneration committee of Entain – home to highstreet names such as Ladbrokes and Coral – after shareholders revolted over executive pay.

In an email to the Olive Press, Fiduciary executive Joey Imossi insisted he was unable to speak about the case.

“With respect to Mr Manasco and the case in general we refer you to the various published judgments of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.” 

He denied any conflict had arisen through Albert Isola’s role as both Finance and Gaming Minister and an Isolas senior partner as he was ‘on sabbatical at the time he served as Minister’.

He further clarified: “Fiduciary provides secretarial management services to Mansion at arm’s length in the usual manner as a corporate services provider.

“Peter Isola was never removed from the board of Entain and resigned during 2022 after serving on the board for six years,” he added.

Entain was charged with a criminal offence by UK prosecutors in 2023 over historical bribery allegations at its Turkish subsidiary.

Despite agreeing to pay £615 million in fines in the UK while owning a Gibraltar gaming licence, the Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner did not investigate.

LACK OF ACTION

Manasco’s allegations against Mansion have also yet to be officially investigated by the Gibraltar Gambling Commission.

When they were flagged to Commissioner Andrew Lyman in July 2023, he wrote to Manasco’s lawyer stating that ‘the bare assertions are insufficient to immediately trigger an investigation.’

The lack of action has frustrated some observers, especially in light of proactive measures taken in other jurisdictions, such as the UK and France.

The case may raise further questions around the regulation of Gibraltar’s mammoth online gaming sector, which according to the government accounts for 28% of the jurisdiction’s GDP. 

READ MORE: Gibraltar finally receives blessing to be removed from FATF ‘grey list’ by economic crime watchdog

The Gibraltar Gaming Commissioner, Andrew Lyman, has so far not moved to investigate the allegations against Mansion

“The Government and the Gambling Commissioner are aware of certain allegations made by Mr Manasco in the context of a case brought by Mansion against Mr Manasco as respondent,” a spokesman told the Olive Press.

“There are ongoing civil proceedings, as such it would be inappropriate to make any comment.”

However, Imossi separately insisted the Gambling Commissioner ‘sanctioned several gaming companies whilst Albert Isola was the Minister’.

SHUT DOWN

Albert Isola, who appointed Lyman in 2017, stood down from his ministerial role overseeing the gaming sector and returned to his post at his law firm Isolas in September 2023. 

Around the same time, Mansion shut down all its online casino brands and had ceased trading in Europe by October 2023 with the loss of 200 jobs.

Both moves came, alarmingly, as Manasco was preparing to submit detailed documents to court laying out Mansion’s alleged ‘grey area gaming’. 

Manasco started at Mansion as a 29-year-old financial controller in 2010, before he was fast-tracked in 2015 to replace the previous CEO who had been forced out. Manasco was just 36.

Under his watch Manasco claims that, by his own admission, Mansion engaged in a range of illicit behaviour.

This included defrauding affiliate partners and allegedly cheating the German and Austrian governments out of taxes.

However, Manasco claims it was his refusal to play ball with similar schemes involving the Israeli market that resulted in Mansion forcing him out in 2021.

The civil action by Mansion against Manasco continues.

Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? walter@theolivepress.es
@waltfinc

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Spain's Pedro Sanchez wants to continue VAT cuts on food into the summer
Previous Story

Spain’s Pedro Sanchez wants to continue VAT cuts on food into the summer

Next Story

Bottlers, led by a donkey, and Maguire: Spanish football fans weigh in on the ‘inhuman’ England football team’s chances at upcoming Euro 2024 in Germany – but some are optimistic

Latest from Business & Finance

Go toTop

More From The Olive Press

Chiringuito an der Costa der Sol mit überdachter Terrasse.

Sommer in Spanien und der unverkennbare Charme der Chiringuitos

Wenn der Sommer kommt, verwandelt sich Spaniens atemberaubende Küste in
An anti-tourism slogan at a demonstration in Barcelona on July 6, 2024

US tourists change their holiday plans in Spain after seeing anti-tourism protests and ‘feeling guilty’

THE recent wave of anti-tourism protests in Spain is beginning