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The Gambling Commission (UKGC) withheld information from the Financial Times (FT) so as not to undermine public trust in the regulator.

The UKGC declined to reveal the identities of specific companies and individuals amid the newspaper’s explosive investigation into Premier League betting sponsors.

The 31-minute FT documentary focused on the “mystery owners” behind Asia-facing gambling brands that sponsor Premier League clubs as it put the white-label provider model under the microscope.

The exposé claimed to uncover a “global network of shell companies and front organisations” as FT reporters sought to establish a link between white-label providers, Asian betting operators, and SunCity Group, the Asian behemoth founded by Alvin Chau, who is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for operating illegal gambling activities.

The FT felt it had struck gold when it came across a 2014 press release that described white-label provider TGP Europe as “owned by TGP Holdings, part of the SunCity Group”.

Then, in January 2017, a UKGC statement on TGP Europe and Fesuge Limited, the company behind former Watford FC sponsor 138.com, crucially said that both businesses were “part of a single group of companies”.

When probed further by the FT in 2023, the UKGC changed its position. Instead, it said the businesses were owned by separate companies that shared some of the same owners.

The FT then asked the UKGC to identify the individual companies and owners in a freedom of information (FOI) request, but the regulator declined to provide the information.

As part of a longer response, it said: “The public trust that the Commission has robust processes in place to assess operators so that when they use the services provided by an operator, they are confident that there has been sufficient scrutiny of that operator to ensure they are protected.

“If this information were released, it would undermine that confidence.

“We consider that the public interest is better served by withholding this information…”

FT video journalist James Sandy said he was “stunned” by the response.

“The UK’s regulator refused to reveal what it knew about 138.com and TGP Europe’s owners under a freedom of information request because it felt that it would undermine public trust in its ability to do its job,” he added.

However, the full UKGC response to the FT’s FOI request confirms that adhering to data protection protocol was also a key driver behind the regulator’s decision to withhold the identities.

The Commission said that information relating to specific operators and their ultimate ownership is exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act unless it has already been made publicly available.

“Further to this, identifying individuals associated with operators would constitute their personal data,” said the UKGC. “We are therefore unable to provide details of the individual(s) who owns TGP Europe Limited and Fesuge Limited.

“The Data Protection Act 2018 requires the processing of personal data to be fair and lawful. It would be disproportionate for us to publicly disclose these details unless there is a strong public interest in doing so.

“These individuals have a legitimate expectation that their personal details will not be disclosed in the context in which they are held. 

“On balance, there is no legitimate public interest in disclosing this information and it would not be fair to do so,” it added.

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