30 Maggio 2012

Lazio captain arrested over match-fixing

Lazio captain arrested over match-fixing

Italian police descended on the national football team’s training ground and made a series of arrests across the country on Monday as part of a widening investigation into suspected match-fixing involving teams in the top three divisions and an international betting syndicate.

Among those arrested in the latest probe to rock Italian soccer were Stefano Mauri, captain of Rome’s Lazio, and Omar Milanetto who joined Padova, a Serie B side, from Genoa in 2011.

Antonio Conte, coach of Juventus, winner of this season’s Serie A league title, was on Monday placed under investigation for suspected sporting fraud while previously coach of Siena in 2011. His club said on Monday he would remain as coach.

A lawyer for Mr Conte said the Juventus coach denied any wrongdoing. It was the Turin club’s first championship victory since it was stripped of its 2006 and 2005 titles after an earlier match-fixing scandal.

Police arrived at the national team’s training site near Florence at dawn and informed Domenico Criscito, a Zenit St Petersburg defender, that he was under investigation. Premises were searched as well as his home in Genoa. Criscito did not take part in a team training session later in the morning in preparation for next month’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

Prosecutors in the northern town of Cremona are leading the investigation which began last year and has already resulted in numerous arrests. Roberto Di Martino, head of the “Last Bet” investigation, said eight matches from the 2010-11 season were under review.

A judge approved arrest warrants for 19 people, including five Hungarian nationals, one of whom was reported to have been detained in Italy. Eleven people involved are players or former players, Italian media reported. Police said those arrested in Hungary were suspected of being involved in an illegal betting syndicate headed by Tan Seet Eng, a Singaporean arrested in December.

Mr Di Martino told a news conference in Cremona that Criscito was the only national team member suspected of involvement in match-fixing. He said a key match under investigation was Lazio’s 4-2 victory away at Lecce in May 2011, in which players who allegedly helped rig the result earned €600,000.

“I don’t know if we’re at the end of this. It seems we could go one forever,” Mr Di Martino said. Prosecutors were quoted as saying the match-fixing ring extended to Singapore and South America.

Paola Severino, the justice minister, said the betting scandal was a phenomenon that had to be rooted out decisively as it was having an extremely negative impact on society.

Giovanni Melandra, the country’s sports minister during the 2006 match-fixing scandal, blamed its recurrence on sports’ governing authorities who, she said, had failed to apply sufficiently punitive sanctions and reforms of the football system.

Last summer, after an earlier wave of arrests, two former national players – Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni and former Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori – were among 17 players banned or suspended from the game.

The investigation could also have wide-ranging legal implications. Codacons, a consumer organisation, said it was launching a class action suit to recoup damages of €500 each for supporters of Bari, one of more than 20 clubs under investigation.

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