EU Action Possible Against Ukraine-Sanctioned Operators, Dutch Minister Says

June 28, 2023
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European Union (EU) sanctions could be considered against Russia-linked companies sanctioned by Ukraine that are based in Curaçao, the Netherlands foreign minister has told the Dutch parliament.

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European Union (EU) sanctions could be considered against Russia-linked companies sanctioned by Ukraine that are based in Curaçao, the Netherlands foreign minister has told the Dutch parliament.

The sanctions could be considered if a planned reform of gambling licensing planned by the Curaçao government fails to meet expectations, said Dutch foreign affairs minister Wopke Hoekstra, speaking on Monday (June 26).

The questions came in response to an article this month in Dutch investigative journalism platform Follow the Money on 1xBet, which it said operates more than a thousand websites targeting gamblers in Europe, North America and Australia using a Curaçao licence.

Follow the Money said it found more than 3m cryptocurrency transactions by 1xBet gamblers, totalling more than €4bn in turnover.

“Sanctions adopted independently by third countries are normally not a subject of discussion between the Netherlands and Curaçao, but there has been contact with Curaçao in response to the abovementioned article," Hoekstra said.

In January, 1xBet said it is based in Cyprus and its Curaçao licence is only one of a number that it operates using a franchise system, and it denied current operations in Russia.

Last week, Curaçao finance minister Javier Silvania promised “more due diligence” and plans to start issuing new licences to gambling operators by September 1, to replace permits issued under a much-criticised master licensee-sublicensee system.

Speaking at a gambling conference in Malta, he also promised a new regulator, the Curaçao Gaming Authority, with authority to issue licences and enforce rules with fines.

“It is unclear exactly how many licences have been granted, who the licence holders are and in which countries these providers are active,” Hoekstra told the House of Representatives. “A lack of supervision helps to maintain such a working method.”

The Netherlands will be in touch with the Ukrainian government to map out the scope of its sanctions against the Russia-linked gambling operators, and Curaçao is researching the companies, he said.

“If this does not lead to follow-up steps where these would be appropriate, other instruments can also be considered, such as exploring EU sanctions,” Hoekstra said.

In Spain, six Curaçao-based operators were fined €5m each in the second half of 2022 for “very serious” violations of Spanish law, with violations including being unlicensed in Spain.

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