June 23, 2006

Milan claim innocence, Juve at risk in scandal

By James Eve and Riccardo Fabiani

ROME (Reuters) - Top football teams, officials and referees
charged in Italy's match-fixing scandal declared their
innocence on Friday ahead of a sports trial that may lead to
the relegation of champions Juventus.

Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, as well as 26
individuals including eight referees and two linesmen, have
been ordered to appear before a tribunal, starting on June 29.

The Football Federation (FIFC) announced the charges after
Italy secured a place in the second round of the World Cup by
beating the Czech Republic 2-0 on Thursday.

The combination, as one television commentator put it, was
"heaven in Germany and hell in Rome."

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who plays for
Juventus, said the charges would not hurt the national side's

"(The scandal) has not left any mark on us," he said.
Thirteen of Italy's 23-man squad at the World Cup play for the
four clubs facing charges.

Former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, Juventus'
ex-CEO Antonio Giraudo and Milan vice-president Adriano
Galliani were among those charged, their clubs said.

"Milan has absolutely nothing to do with this scandal, from
either a penal or moral standpoint," said former Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi, who is Milan's owner and president.

Milan's website said the team had signed a new five-year
contract with Brazil midfielder Kaka in what it called a vote
of confidence in the future by a club "that has nothing to

Lazio also issued a statement, saying both the team and its
president, Claudio Lotito, had nothing to fear from the


Juventus, 29 times champions of Italy, said they would
study the charges and reserved the right to defend themselves.
But unlike Milan and Lazio, they did not reject the

The main charges -- sporting fraud and violating fairness
and probity -- can be punished by fines, bans and relegations.

The verdicts will be delivered between July 7 and 9 -- the
latter being the day of the World Cup final.

La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper said the charge that
Moggi sought to influence refereeing appointments to benefit
Juventus left the Turin giants in an extremely perilous

"It is a terrible accusation, something that could send the
club down to Serie C," the paper said.

Moggi will seek exemption from the trial because he quit as
Juve's general manager on May 14, his lawyer Paolo Trofino

Moggi refused to speak to the FIGC's investigators, and his
lawyers cite the case of a former Sampdoria official Emiliano
Salvarezza, whose refusal to appear in front of a sports
justice trial in 2001 was upheld by a civil court.

Juventus shares, which have lost about half their value
since the scandal broke in May, initially bounced higher on
short-covering but closed down 0.68 percent at 1.32 euros.


According to media which obtained the prosecutor's charge
sheet, all four clubs were accused of "sporting fraud."

Moggi and Giraudo face charges of sporting fraud and also
of breaking rules governing fairness in the sport, Juventus

Galliani quit as president of the Italian Football League
shortly after the charges were announced but said he did
nothing wrong. He faces a single charge of violating fairness
and probity, AC Milan said.

"He's the most honest and open person I've ever worked
with," Berlusconi said of Galliani.

The sporting fraud charge against Milan, European champions
six times, was based on a single Serie A match against Chievo
in April 2005, Milan said.

Berlusconi said the fact Milan finished behind Juventus in
each of the past two seasons showed his team received no
favours from referees. "It looks as though we had a system for
losing," he said sarcastically.

Juventus have been at the core of the scandal since it
began early last month with the publication of intercepted
telephone conversations between Moggi and senior FIGC officials
discussing refereeing appointments for matches during the
2004-05 season.

The eight referees who were charged included Massimo De
Santis, who was the FIGC's proposed referee for the World Cup
until he was withdrawn after the scandal broke.

"I don't think I've ever committed any crimes on the field
of play," De Santis told reporters on Friday.