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US authorities on Tuesday charged two founders of UK-listed Neteller, one of the leading payment processors for online gamblers, with laundering billions of dollars of gambling proceeds, intensifying concern about the US stance on internet gaming.
Stephen Lawrence, a former chief executive and chairman, was detained on Monday in the US Virgin Islands and was due to appear in court on Wednesday.
John Lefebvre was held in California and was set to appear in court in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The US attorney’s office in the southern district of New York said the men, who are Canadian, had been charged with conspiring to transfer funds with the intent to promote illegal gambling. If convicted they could face 20 years in prison.
The two men set up Neteller in 1999 and remain its biggest individual shareholders. But the money transfer company said neither had any current involvement other than as investors.
Mr Lawrence, 46, stepped down from the board last October. Mr Lefebvre, 55, left the board in December 2005.
Michael Garcia, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, said the arrested men “knew when they took their company public that its activities, as well as those of the internet gambling companies it assisted, were illegal in the US”.
Neteller, which has its headquarters in the Isle of Man and is listed on Aim, had “not received any communication or correspondence from any US authority regarding this or any related matter”. Trading in Neteller shares was suspended after the arrests.
Simon Holliday, partner at Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, said: “It could mean anyone . . . ever . . . involved in the online gambling industry faces the possibility of arrest if they travel to the US.”
These are the latest in a series of arrests of business people involved in online gaming.
David Carruthers, former chief executive of BetonSports and a prominent advocate of regulated online gambling, was arrested in Texas last July on conspiracy, fraud and racketeering charges. He is, in effect, under house arrest.
Peter Dicks, former chairman of Sportingbet, was arrested in New York on a warrant filed in Louisiana but was released and allowed to return to London.
On Monday, shares in Neteller closed down 7 per cent at 163¾p.