Friday, June 23, 2006

Indictments overshadow Italian win

Four of Italy’s top football teams were charged last night in a match-fixing scandal that has besmirched a national passion and shaken the stock market.

Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina face relegation from the top flight if they are found guilty at a trial next week of rigging matches.

Thirty other football officials, including referees, were indicted for “sporting fraud”, but their names were withheld “for reasons of privacy”, the Italian Football Federation said. They are believed to include Franco Carraro, former federation president, and Adriano Galliani, the AC Milan chief executive

Stefano Palazzi, the prosecutor, delayed publication of the charges until after the World Cup match between Italy and the Czech Republic. The Azzurri team featured five players from Juventus and AC Milan, whose club futures are now in doubt. To the relief of Italian football fans outraged by the corruption scandal, Italy won 2-0 to reach the second round, where they will meet Australia.

Filippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso, two of the heroes of yesterday’s World Cup performance, play for AC Milan, and three, Fabio Cannavaro, Italy’s captain, Gianluca Zambrotta and Gigi Buffon, the goalkeeper, play for Juventus. A total of 13 players in Italy’s World Cup squad are employed by teams implicated in the scandal.

All may now be forced to leave their clubs, which will be unable to pay their salaries after losing valuable sponsorship and income from taking part in Europe’s top competitions.

The corruption scandal broke last month when newspapers published intercepted conversations between Luciano Moggi, the former general manager of Juventus, and senior officials of the football federation discussing the appointment of referees during the 2004-05 football season.

Italian authorities were put under intense pressure by UEFA, European football’s governing body, to conclude the inquiry before the start of the next season. The Italian Football Association has promised to impose sanctions by July 9, the date of the World Cup final. Magistrates are also investigating the sports management agency GEA World, run by Signor Moggi’s son, Alessandro, over claims of “unfair competition with use of violence and threats”. GEA World has nearly 200 Italian players and coaches on its books.

Signor Palazzi acted after receiving a report on Monday by Francesco Saverio Borelli, a retired magistrate who has conducted an intensive six-week inquiry.

It heavily criticises Juventus, which this season won its 29th league title but stands accused of systematic match-rigging. The club faces demotion to Serie B or even C1 and could be stripped of the Serie A titles it won in the past two seasons.

Guido Rossi, President of the football association, said that Signor Palazzi’s decisions to prosecute over the scandal - the worst in the history of Italian football - had been made on Wednesday. But the announcement of his findings was delayed until after the World Cup match and the closure of the Milan stock exchange, on which Juventus and Lazio are quoted.

Since the scandal broke in early May, Juventus shares have lost half their value and yesterday were trading at €1.23 (84p). The clubs charged face trial at a sports tribunal to be held by the football association next week at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. The trial is expected to deliver its verdicts between July 7 and 9, the weekend of the World Cup final. State prosecutors will then decide whether to proceed with criminal charges.

Any clubs found guilty of impropriety face penalties ranging from deduction of points from last season’s tally to relegation to a lower league. Individuals found guilty will be given lengthy bans from the game.

Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister and owner of AC Milan, insisted that Milan was not guilty of corruption but had itself been “defrauded”. “We expect two titles at the minimum,” he said, in apparent reference to title holder Juventus, which has won the past two championships.

Any club or individual that is convicted can ask for an appeals trial, which the football association has promised will end by July 27, in time for it to tell UEFA which teams will compete in next season’s Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions.


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