Italian government denies immunity to casino owner holding Dominica diplomatic passport
By Thomson Fontaine
November 18, 2011 2:00 a.m.
Rome, Italy (TDN) —- Dominica is once again at the center of a diplomatic controversy involving the sale of diplomatic passports by the Skerrit administration to non-Dominican nationals of questionable repute.
Francesco Corallo is reported to be the owner of the largest gambling enterprise in Italy and holder of a diplomatic passport.
When Italy’s financial police the Guardia di Finanza burst into the home of Francesco Corallo, owner of the gambling casino Atlantis/Bet Plus in Rome, Italy on November 10, 2011 he told them that he could not be arrested because he was 'the Permanent Representative of the Commonwealth of Dominica at the FAO”, and that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
Atlantis/BetPlus claimed that the Government of Dominica designated him their ambassador to the FAO in a letter dated June 21, 2011, and that they notified the FAO of his arrival in Italy in a letter dated September 21.
While the Police attempted to verify the claim of immunity, Amedeo Laboccetta a deputy in the Italian Parliament entered the offices and retreived a laptop declaring that it was his. However, Corallo later claimed that the laptop belonged to a South American woman.
Police were then forced to end their search as they awaited confirmation from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the FAO that Corallo was indeed Dominica’s Ambassador to the FAO.
Yesterday, the Italian Foreign Ministry stated that it had denied Corallo’ request of diplomatic immunity on the grounds that a person who held important economic activities in the host country could not be considered a diplomat. It said that as the owner of Atlantis, Corallo, is conducting economic activities in Italy and that it is therefore deemed “inappropriate for someone with business interests in our country to enjoy diplomatic immunity.”
When the news broke, the FAO office in Rome stated categorically that it did not know Corallo.
“This man is not an FAO goodwill ambassador.” The FAO later issued an official statement saying that Francesco Corallo "is not 'the Permanent Representative of the Commonwealth of Dominica at the FAO."
Milan prosecutors immediately announced their intention to proceed with the investigation of Ponzellini Massimo, president of Banca Popolare di Milano who is at the center of the 148 million euros funding to Atlantis/Bet Plus, which is headquartered in the Netherlands and owned by Dominica’s ambassador Francesco Corallo. Both Labocetta and Corallo will also be investigated.
Corallo has been referred to in the Italian press “as the son of Gaetano, who was sentenced for organized crimes in Italy, and linked to the Nitto Santapoala family.
Police also asked the Italian Parliament to grant them permission to seize the laptop taken by Laboccetta from Corallo’ home. They also said that Labocetta would be charged with aiding and abetting a crime for taking the laptop.
This is not the first time that Dominica’s string of dubious ambassadors has had difficulty using diplomatic cover to escape prosecution.
In 2009, Swiss authorities renounced the diplomatic immunity of Dominica’s ambassador to Switzerland Roman Laschin a Russian national after he was criminally charged in that country.
Similarly, the US government brushed aside the diplomatic pleas of ambassador Rudolph King after he was arrested on fraud charges. And, in 2007, the United States embassy denied a visa to Barbadian national Leroy Paris after questioning why a non-Dominican was named as goodwill ambassador.
Clearly, the world governments are very much aware of the practice by the Dominica government to sell diplomatic passports and are simply ignoring holders of the passports when they invoke diplomatic immunity.
Last year, Atlantis/BetPlus was at the center of another Italian scandal. The Finance Ministry claimed almost $45 billion in evaded taxes from them, but the Italian media reported that the Finance Ministry missed out on an astonishing $123 billion in taxes.
For Francesco Carello, Italian businessman and apparent holder of a diplomatic passport issued by the Skerrit government, it was not enough to sidestep Italian justice.