Italian police arrested the team captain of SS Lazio SA and prosecutors are probing the coach of champion Juventus Football Club SpA as part of an international investigation into match-rigging in the nation’s soccer leagues.
Prosecutors leading the investigation in Cremona ordered the arrest of 19 people, including Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri and Padova player Omar Milanetto, according to an e-mailed statement from their office in the northern city. Eight matches from 2011 are under review, Prosecutor Roberto Di Martino said at a news conference in Cremona today.
Police visited the Italian national team’s practice grounds outside Florence today as they questioned international defender Domenico Criscito for his alleged involvement in the case, which comes less than two weeks before the European Championship kicks off. After the news, Criscito was left off Italy’s final roster for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
“He’ll definitely not be part of our contingent,” Demetrio Albertini, a vice president of the Italian Soccer Federation, said at a news conference at the team’s training center in Coverciano. “He said he doesn’t have anything to do with this story and wants to put an end to it as soon as possible.”
Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci also is being targeted in the probe, news agency Ansa reported.
The probe recalls a similar scandal that erupted before the 2006 World Cup that led to Juventus being stripped of a Serie A title. Italy went on to win its fourth World Cup even as the charges rocked the nation’s most popular sport.
“There are no other national team players involved,” Di Martino said today. “This only involved Criscito,” who is being probed and has not been charged, he said.
While Juventus coach Antonio Conte’s name didn’t appear on the prosecutors’ suspect list, his home was searched today for clues of match-fixing when he managed Siena during the 2010-2011 season, daily Gazzetta dello Sport reported today. A Juventus spokeswoman didn’t respond to three telephone calls to her office in Turin.
Juventus Chairman Andrea Agnelli defended Conte, saying “I’ve known him for 20 years and honesty is one of his attributes” in comments broadcast by Sky TG24 today.
Conte, appearing alongside Agnelli, criticized prosecutors for not seeking to question him. “I’ve always acted honestly as a player and coach,” he said, after his lawyer had earlier denied any wrongdoing by the former Italy international.
Shares in Juventus, which will take part in next season’s lucrative Champions League, rose 4.73 percent to 18 euro cents in Milan today. Lazio shares closed at 34 cents, down 4.28 percent.
Di Martino said a key game prosecutors are examining was Lecce-Lazio from May 2011. The betting ring earned 2 million euros ($2.5 million) and the players who helped rig the 2-4 result earned 600,000 euros, he said.
The probe is also focusing on suspects from Croatia and Hungary, some of whom were part of a previous investigation in 2010, Di Martino said. One Hungarian has been arrested as part of the probe in his country, he said.
“I don’t know if we’re at the end of this,” Di Martino said. “It seems we could go on forever.”