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By ESPN Staff

AC Milan appeal their 'exorbitant punishment'

ROME, July 24 (Reuters) - The appeals trial in Italy's match-fixing scandal closed on Monday with AC Milan's lawyer Leandro Cantamessa condemning the 'exorbitant punishment' handed down by a sports tribunal earlier this month.

Milan are one of four clubs from the country's top Serie A division found guilty of conspiring with referees and linesmen to rig games during the 2004/05 season.

The appeals court's panel of five judges are expected to deliver their verdicts on Tuesday.

The tribunal deducted 44 points from Milan for the 2005/06 season -- ruling them out of next season's Champions League -- and ordered them to start the next Serie A campaign on minus 15 points.

Cantamessa said the sentence was 'without precedent', especially as Milan had only been found 'indirectly responsible' for the actions of a former member of its management, Leonardo Meani.

In intercepted telephone conversations Meani asked the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) official in charge of assigning linesmen for Serie A matches for specific linesmen for Milan's game against Chievo Verona in April 2005.

Meani was employed on a short-term contract and was 'a person altogether marginal to the club', said Cantamessa.

'The further away a person is from the club, the more autonomous his actions become and the less controllable on the part of the club.'

Cantamessa's attempt to distance Milan from Meani was repeated by the lawyer representing Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani.

'Galliani never approved Leonardi Meani's actions,' said Marco De Luca.

The other three clubs found guilty by the sports tribunal -- Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio -- have also denied wrongdoing and are appealing against what they claim are unjust sentences.

Juventus were hardest hit by the tribunal, who stripped them of their last two Serie A titles and ordered the club to start next season in the second-tier Serie B on minus 30 points.

The Turin giants have been at the centre of the scandal since it began in May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between their then general manager Luciano Moggi and FIGC officials, discussing refereeing appointments during the 2004/05 season.

Fiorentina and Lazio were also relegated to Serie B, though with lesser points penalties.

The appeals court, which convened at Rome's luxurious Hotel Parco Dei Principi, is working against the clock to deliver its verdicts on Tuesday -- the deadline UEFA has set the FIGC to submit its list of teams to compete in next season's Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions.

Should the verdicts arrive later, FIGC commissioner Guido Rossi has said that Italy's list to UEFA would reflect the verdicts of the sports tribunal.

In that case, Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina would lose their places in the Champions League to make way for AS Roma, Chievo Verona and Palermo.