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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jul 6, 2006

Italian clubs split in match-fixing trial

ROME, July 6 (Reuters) - Three top Italian soccer clubs insisted all charges against them should be thrown out in a match-fixing trial, distancing themselves from champions Juventus who have suggested they might settle for relegation.

Lawyers for AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina said on Thursday the clubs had no case to answer at the trial which has cast a cloud over the national soccer team's qualification for Sunday's 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.

The trial, which is investigating suspected attempts to influence matches by interfering with the selection of referees and linesmen, has rocked Italy.

The four clubs and 26 officials from Italy's soccer authorities, the teams accused, referees and linesmen have denied charges of sporting fraud.

Juventus have raised the prospect that they might agree to relegation to Italy's second division.

Cesare Zaccone, a lawyer for Juventus, told the hearing on Wednesday that if his clients were found guilty 'an acceptable punishment could be that of the other clubs, in other words (relegation to) the second division with points deducted'.

A sports prosecutor 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.

The judges at the tribunal in Rome's Olympic Stadium are aiming to deliver a verdict on Monday, the day after the World Cup final between Italy and France in Berlin.

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,' he declared to the hearing.

Milan's owner is ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who has said the investigation is part of a campaign against him.

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

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.

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.

The scandal broke in May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and Italian soccer officials, discussing refereeing appointments in the 2004-05 season.