Time popular Nairobi casino boss was linked to Italian mafia

By Wainaina Wambu | Published Tue, February 27th 2018 at 11:33, Updated February 27th 2018 at 11:43 GMT +3
Gambling in a casino

In summary

  • The businessman had been given a contract to run the establishment in Nairobi in a move meant to break industry monopoly

In 1984, a major figure in the Italian mafia shattered its wall of secrecy for the first time in history.

Tommaso Buscetta broke the Mafia oath of silence, popularly known as Omerta. His revelations of the mafia’s inner workings reverberated across the world and later exposed its hushed activities in Kenya.

One of the people revealed after another leader of a 179-man Mafioso gang followed Buscetta’s suit was the managing director of the International Casino, a popular gambling den in Nairobi. Count Giorgio Borletti was revealed as the ‘Africa representative’ of an Italian Mafia leader.

The Kenyan press said Borletti had been exposed as a member of the mafia who had been exporting cocaine and other drugs using the casino business and horticultural exports as a cover.

He was arrested in February 1985 in Italy and charged with being a member of “the most wanted” mafia gang.

Gang member

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The gang was led by Angelo Epaminoda, who after his arrest “allegedly violated the omerta” and told Italian police that Borletti was a gang member.

The now-defunct Kenya Times wrote that Bortelli used his huge financial influence to have his contract to operate his Kenyan casino business renewed by paying a former cabinet minister Sh10 million.

Bortelli had been given a contract by the Government to run a casino in Nairobi under terms which would allow the Kenyan government to break the monopoly.

Despite managing to have the contract renewed, reported Kenya Times, other interested parties entered into negotiations with the government.

They obtained a licence to run a casino at the Inter-Continental Hotel.

The decision is said to have angered the Italian and he sued the government for “breach of contract.” But the press reported that the Italian wanted a monopoly in order to continue “cheating the government” of his income.

“Main reason why the Italian opposed the establishment of another casino is to allow him to enjoy full monopoly of the business so that he may continue cheating the government by hiding his income accrued through the business,” reported Kenya Times.

Borletti was nabbed at Liguria, Italy where he was purchasing one of the biggest casinos called Sanremo. According to the sale agreement, he was to be paid $3 million (Sh301 million) if the sale was cancelled.

The deal was cancelled and the casino bought by another mafia boss.

Bortelli brought the entire $3 million back to Kenya and left infighting among members of the Italian gambling circles.

The company he had formed to buy the Sanremo Casino was called “Flowers Paradise.” Some members of the 179-man gang had also fled Italy and sought refuge in Malindi, Kenya.

One was even mentioned in the involvement of the 1978 murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

According to newspaper reports, Bortellli operated his casino “monopoly” in Kenya with a local partner until 1979.

He had also made a business deal in 1977 through which the Devon Hotel near the Nairobi Casino would be used as an accommodation facility for some of his Italian customers.

Borletti had started a horticulture and a ranching farm in Naivasha and was exporting to France and Switzerland in 1983.

Borletti’s lawyers in Nairobi, however, denied allegations that their client had ties to the Mafia though admitted their client was under investigations in Italy.

In the 1970s, the International Casino had also caused uproar in Parliament as most of its workers were Italians and the country was trying to ensure more Africans were involved in the running of big firms.

Between 1975 and 1976, indigenous Kenyans together with an Italian were taken abroad for training after which none had gotten a promotion but the Italian had risen through the ranks.

MPs also said the casino was raking in millions with one legislator suggesting that the government keep its hands off the casino and let Italians operate it but have the business taxed heavily.

Also in the 1990s, newspaper reported that mafia activities were gaining traction in the country and Italians were disguising as tourists and later on acquiring entry or work permits to do jobs that Kenyans could easily do.

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