18 January 2007

Jan. 18, 2007, 3:43AM
By ROBERT BARR – Associated Press

LONDON — Neteller PLC, a Britain-based online money transfer business, said Thursday it is ceasing to handle gambling transactions from U.S. customers because of restrictive legislation and uncertainties about regulations.

The company’s move came three days after former directors arrested and charged in the United States with funneling billions of dollars in gambling proceeds to overseas betting operations.

“As of today … at 12:01 AM GMT, U.S. resident customers were no longer able to transfer funds using Neteller’s services to or from any online gambling site,” the company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

Neteller said it would focus operations on markets in Europe, Asia and other countries in the Americas.

Trading in Neteller shares on the London Stock Exchange was suspended Tuesday following the announcement of the arrests of the two former directors.

Neteller is an Internet payment services company that has grown in popularity as an increasing number of credit card companies have begun refusing to accept payments to online gambling sites.

Neteller essentially acts as a middleman between gamblers and offshore betting operations. For example, a gambler who wants to place bets at offshore sports books can fund an account with Neteller, which in turn will transfer the money to the betting sites. Prosecutors say Neteller facilitated the transfer of billions of dollars of illegal gambling proceeds.

On Tuesday, U.S. authorities announced the arrests of former directors John David Lefebvre, 55, and Stephen Eric Lawrence, 46, both Canadian citizens who were indicted by a grand jury in New York.

U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said the men knew when they took their company public that its activities were illegal.

FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon, assistant director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the multibillion-dollar online gambling industry is “a colossal criminal enterprise masquerading as legitimate business.”

Lefebvre and Lawrence were charged in connection with the creation and operation of an Internet payment services company that facilitated the transfer of billions of dollars of illegal gambling proceeds from U.S. citizens to the owners of overseas Internet gambling companies.

Lefebvre was arrested Monday in Malibu, California. Lawrence, who resides in Paradise Island, Bahamas, was arrested Monday in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

They joined in 1999 to found Neteller, which is based in the Isle of Man and is publicly traded in the United Kingdom.

Lawrence left the company’s board of directors in October and Lefebvre left in December 2005, prosecutors said.

The company’s announcement noted the arrests of its former directors, but said the decision to cease gambling transfers in the United States “reflects the culmination of a series of deliberations and steps the group has taken since the passing of the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) in October 2006.”

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