June 29, 2006

Italy tribunal opens match-fixing trial

By James Eve

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's biggest-ever sports trial opened
on Thursday before a panel of judges trying four leading soccer
clubs on match-fixing charges which could force them out of the
nation's top league and European competition.

Tribunal president Cesare Ruperto opened the trial with a
roll call of the accused who stood up as their names were read
inside a spartan, low-ceilinged room in Rome's Olympic Stadium.

The trial, which was beamed by closed circuit television to
media gathered in a nearby room, quickly moved to procedural
issues that dominated the morning.

Three defense lawyers, passing a microphone as they raised
points of order, asked that the trial be postponed to give the
defense more time to prepare their cases. The judges then
called a recess to consider the request.

The panel of five retired judges and one representative
from Italy's referees association is considering charges
against Serie A champions Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and
Lazio, as well as 26 senior officials, referees and linesmen.

In a reminder that it is a sports tribunal, the judges wore
suits instead of the robes that are worn in criminal trials.

Among the accused in the "Clean Feet" scandal, AC Milan
vice-president Adriano Galliani sat in the front row near
Franco Carraro, former president of the Italian Football


Referee Massimo De Santis, who was pulled from the World
Cup after the scandal erupted in May, was in the third row.

Former Juventus general manager Luciano Luciano Moggi, at
the center of the scandal, was not present. He has said he does
not need to answer to the tribunal because he has quit


The accused are charged with sporting fraud and unfair
conduct, which could lead to the teams being relegated and the
individuals being either suspended or banned from football.

Juventus runs the greatest risk of being dropped from
Italy's top league, and the club appeared resigned to playing a
year outside Serie A before competing again for the
championship which it has won the past two years.

"We have worked to get things back to normal and prepare a
team that in two years will return to being a winning squad,"
Juventus CEO Carlo Sant'Albano said in an interview published
in La Repubblica newspaper.

Lawyers representing five Serie B teams that hope to be
promoted if the accused squads are relegated turned up. But
defense lawyers for the Serie A squads asked the court to bar
their counterparts representing Bologna, Lecce, Treviso,
Brescia and Messina.

The trial will run for the duration of the World Cup in
Germany and vie for Italians' attention with the progress of
the national team, who have 13 players from the four accused
clubs. Italy face Ukraine on Friday in the quarter-finals.

Soccer-mad Italy has been gripped by the scandal since it
erupted last month with the publication of intercepted
telephone conversations showing Moggi discussing refereeing
appointments with senior FIGC officials during the 2004-05

FIGC, which appointed the tribunal, has said it will rule
by July 9, the date of the World Cup final, and that appeals
would be heard by July 20.

That would give FIGC time before a deadline of July 27 to
submit the names of teams to compete in next season's Champions
League and UEFA Cup competitions.

If they were relegated, Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina
would miss the Champions League and Lazio the UEFA Cup. If they
were only docked points, they would still be able to compete.

The football trial is not a criminal proceeding but
prosecutors in four cities have launched investigations which
could lead to criminal charges.