Thursday, May 25, 2006

'Clean Hands' judge leads investigating team

A crusading 76-year-old judge who put 3,200 Italian politicians and businessmen on trial in the 1990's for corruption, has been brought out of retirement to investigate the scandal that has engulfed Italian football.

Franco Borrelli, after four years of retirement, will oversee an investigation that began at Juventus but has spread to involve several of Italy's biggest clubs, 41 officials and a selection of judges and politicians, including Giuseppe Pisanu, the former home minister.

His appointment as the head of the Italian Football Association's investigations department triggered comparisons between the current scandal and the dishonesty exposed during the 1990s.

Fifteen years ago, Mr Borrelli and a small team of investigators waged war on what appeared to be an endless stream of corruption infecting Italian life. The "Clean Hands" trials involved almost every major politician and businessman in the country, and two senior managers committed suicide rather than face the courts.

The "Clean Feet" investigations started two weeks ago after transcripts of wire-tapped telephone calls suggested that Luciano Moggi, the managing director of Juventus, had been able to influence the selection of referees for the club's domestic and European matches. Mr Moggi has since been dismissed, together with the rest of the Juventus board.

Magistrates in Turin, Naples, Rome and Parma quickly found a web of alleged corruption and financial fraud throughout Italian football. AC Milan, Internazionale, Lazio, Parma and Roma are all under suspicion of a range of offences ranging from match-fixing to hiding income from transfers. Mr Moggi has been charged with kidnapping after locking a disobedient referee in a changing room.

Italy's World Cup plans have been severely unsettled by investigations into Marcello Lippi, the national coach, and Gianluigi Buffon, the first-choice goalkeeper. Buffon, who plays for Juventus, was questioned yesterday by investigators trying to establish whether he gambled on matches in which he was involved.

Antonio Di Pietro, another member of the "Clean Hands" team who is the minister for infrastructure, said Mr Borrelli would come down hard "on those who played dirty and swindled so many supporters who believed in the goodness of the sport".

Juventus face relegation from Italy's top division and forfeiture of the league titles won in the past two years. There were suggestions yesterday that only foreign referees would be allowed to officiate in Italy next season.

Many Italian politicians expressed dismay at Mr Borrelli's appointment. "They have chosen a referee they trust, which is what Moggi was doing," said Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier and the owner of AC Milan.

Mr Berlusconi, who has been investigated by Mr Borrelli in the past, always maintained that the "Clean Hands" inquiries were a Left-wing conspiracy.


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