Thursday, July 06, 2006

Trio reject claims

Lawyers representing AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio in Italy's football corruption trial say the clubs have no case to answer. The trio, along with Juventus, face relegation, fines and point deductions if found guilty of sporting fraud.

The prosecutor Stefano Palazzi wants Juventus to be stripped of the Serie A titles they won in the past two seasons and sent to the lowly third division with the other three clubs demoted to the second division. All teams would have points deducted at the start of next season.

Yesterday, Juventus' lawyer Cesare Zaccone said his clients could settle for relegation into the second division and points deduction as "an acceptable punishment."

The scandal broke in May with the publication of transcripts of telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and Italian Football Association officials, discussing refereeing appointments in the 2004-05 season. A tribunal in Rome is investigating charges that the clubs, their management, football officials and referees tried to influence the outcome of matches by interfering with the appointment of referees. It is due to deliver its judgement on Monday, the day after Italy play in the World Cup final.

"We at Lazio are innocent. We don't have anything to admit. Obviously Juventus's lawyers have decided it was better to do it like that. But we at Lazio do not have anything to hide," Lazio lawyer Gian Michele Gentile said.

Lazio president Claudio Lotito said he would go all the way to the civil courts to appeal against the verdict if his club was found guilty of sporting fraud.

Marco De Luca, a lawyer for Adriano Galliani, vice-president of Milan, conceded that his client should have denounced what he knew of irregularities, which emerged in telephone comments to Galliani by former club official Leonard Meani.

Intercepted telephone conversations revealed Meani complaining to the official in charge of assigning linesman to Serie A matches about a linesman he selected after Milan lost to Siena in April 2005. "There is not a single fact in the world that proves Galliani approved of Meani's conduct," De Luca said. Omission was not an offence, he continued, before insisting on the club's honesty as well as its glorious history. "AC Milan has brought this federation, of which you (the judges) are also a part, many, many trophies. We will be respectful of your decisions. But we are proud to be Milan. Respect for the rules is in Milan's DNA" he declared to the hearing.

Lawyers for Fiorentina deposited bundles of notes with the judges, saying they proved their clients should be cleared.

Giorgio Merlone, a lawyer for Pierluigi Pairetto, an Italian Football Federation official who ran a draw for allotting referees to matches, accused the prosecutor of going too far. "In its report, the investigator's office spoke of the 'mere suspicion' that the draw was fixed. The federal prosecutor has transformed this suspicion, as if by magic, into a certainty. But for a certainty you need some concrete proof," Merlone said.

The sports tribunal will not hand out penal sentences. A separate magistrates' investigation in Naples has yet to decide whether to press criminal charges against some of the accused.


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