Italian football faces new scandal -- this time tax evasion probe
AC Milan, Juventus and Lazio are among clubs being investigated
Over 200 police officers looking at more than 50 player transfers
Top Turkish sides barred from Europe on match-fixing charges
Italian football is facing new scandal after police raided the headquarters of a host of leading clubs in a tax evasion and money laundering probe, according to Italian prosecutors Tuesday.
Champions Juventus, AC Milan and Lazio were among approximately 40 clubs that had documents seized relating to transfers and contracts between teams, players and agents in an investigation reportedly dubbed “Sick Soccer,” the public prosecutors’ office based in Naples said in a statement.
The probe, involving over 200 police officers, is looking at more than 50 player transfers, in particular those arranged by two football agents – Argentine Alejandro Mazzoni and Italian Alessandro Moggi, the statement said.
Eight agents are under investigation, while another four could potentially be drawn into the probe.
Neither the Italian Football Federation, nor Juventus, Milan and Lazio or Moggi or Mazzoni were immediately available for comment.
“At the moment the LNPA (Italian Football League) is not planning to release any official statement,” said the Lega Calcio, the regulator of Italy’s top two division Serie A and B.
The Naples police authorities began the investigation last October, initially looking into Argentina international Ezequiel Lavezzi’s Napoli contract.
The 28-year-old moved to Paris Saint-Germain in a multi-million dollar deal last summer, though Italian authorities have stressed that the players themselves are not under investigation.
The warrant for the search and seizure of documents was issued by a court in Naples as seizures took place in the headquarters of dozens of Italian football clubs and some foreign clubs as well.
The charges range from criminal association, international fiscal evasion, illicit brokering, the production and use of fake invoices and money laundering.
“From what we know about the investigation, it’s all about agents,” Riccardo Andriani, a lawyer from the Center for Law Economics and Ethic Studies in Sport, told CNN.
“They often act in an unclear way as middlemen [between the clubs and the players] rather than representing just one side.
“This can create a lack of transparency about where the money comes from and where it goes. But I believe that Italian football, as it has in the past, will survive also this scandal.”
Italian soccer has been dogged by a number of scandals in recent years.
Juventus were stripped of the titles won in 2005 and 2006 and relegated to Serie B because of their involvement, along with several other top clubs, in match fixing.
The “Calciopoli” affair saw former Juventus managing director Luciano Moggi – the father of Alessandro – banned for life by the Italian football authorities.
Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio were all implicated in a wide-ranging police investigation which discovered a network of phone calls between club officials and refereeing organizations.
Ahead of Euro 2012, Italy was the focus of an international match-fixing ring, while last season, Juventus coach Antonio Conte temporarily suspended for failing to report infractions.
In 2012, Napoli were docked two points after an investigation by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) into match-fixing claims.
Club captain Paolo Cannavaro and Gianluca Grava were both handed six-month bans for failing to flag up former Napoli goalkeeper Matteo Gianello’s intention to fix a match between the Naples club and Sampdoria in 2010.
Napoli had issued a statement at the time denying any wrongdoing by the club.
In 1980, Italy striker Paolo Rossi was out of the sport for two years following his involvement in a match-fixing scandal. He has always maintained his innocence.
In a separate development in Turkey, leading sides Fenerbahce and Besiktas have both been banned from European competition on match-fixing charges by UEFA.
Both clubs have said they will appeal the decision – with Besiktas unable to contest next season’s Europa League after being banned for a year while Fenerbahce have received a two-year suspension.
“Our club will be filing an appeal to UEFA’s Appeals Committee,” Fenerbahce, who reached last season’s Europa League semifinals, said on its website.
‘Fener’, who must now sit out the 2013/2014 Champions League, will serve an additional one-year ban if they commit a similar offense in the next five years.
If the appeals are rejected, Bursaspor, who finished fourth last season, will replace Fenerbahce in the Champions League while fifth-placed Kayserispor will take part in the Europa League.
Both Fenerbahce and Besiktas were caught up in a match-fixing scandal that surrounded the 2010-2011 season, when ‘Fener’ were crowned champions.
They were barred from competing in the 2011-2012 Champions League by the Turkish Football Federation as a result.