Appeals trial in Italian match-fixing scandal begins

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The Independent Online

The appeals trial in Italian soccer's match-fixing scandal began yesterdat with all four clubs involved hoping to have their sentences reduced.

Juventus is appealing its demotion to Serie B and the loss of its last two Serie A titles, claiming that the sanctions are excessive. Lazio, Fiorentina and AC Milan are also appealing.

An Italian sports tribunal last week relegated Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina to the second division. Milan escaped demotion but was given a 15-point penalty and banned from competing in the Champions League this season.

Juventus was also penalized 30 points, Fiorentina was penalized 12 points and Lazio seven.

The first part of the hearing was largely devoted to technicalities.

"I'm confident," Lazio lawyer Gianmichele Gentile said outside the hotel where the sports trial was being held. "We are here to make the truth clear, namely that Lazio is innocent on all charges."

Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle said: "We hope they look at all our documents and that they allow us to defend ourselves considering that we really haven't done anything."

The sports tribunal also sanctioned 19 former officials - including a four-year ban for Della Valle - and referees for influencing matches.

"The sentences are absolutely unacceptable," said Fulvio Gianaria, the lawyer for former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, the man at the center of the scandal. "There's no proof of wrongdoing, therefore, we expect a reduction of the penalties."

Moggi and former Juventus chief executive Antonio Giraudo received maximum five-year bans for match-fixing and disloyalty, with a recommendation to the federation that they be banned for life.

The pair, who resigned in May along with the club's entire board, were accused of creating a network of contacts with federation officials to influence refereeing assignments and get players booked.

Former federation president Franco Carraro, who was banned for 4 1/2 years, refused to comment as he entered the trial.

Prosecutor Stefano Palazzi resubmitted his original recommendation for tougher sentencing, the Italian soccer federation said.

Palazzi wants Juventus demoted to Serie C; Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio demoted to Serie B with points to be docked - three for Milan, and 15 each for Lazio and Fiorentina.

Verdicts are expected Monday or Tuesday, in time for the deadline set by UEFA to decide which teams will participate in European competitions this season.

If upheld, Juventus will play in the second division for the first time since it was founded in 1897. The Turin-based powerhouse has won 29 league titles - including the ones stripped by Friday's verdict - two Champions League titles, four Italian Supercups, two European Supercups and two Toyota or Intercontinental Cups.

Lazio will return to the Serie B for the first time since the 1987-88 season, while Fiorentina was declared bankrupt in 2002 and forced to play in the fourth division, Serie C2. It won promotion into Serie B by 2003 and returned to the top division the following year.

Meanwhile, consumer group Codacons asked the Italian soccer federation on Saturday to suspend this season's Serie A championship while appeals and investigations were ongoing.

"Until everything is sorted out, the championship should wait," Codacons president Carlo Rienzi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Prosecutors in Naples, Rome, Parma and Turin are conducting separate criminal probes into sports fraud, illegal betting and false bookkeeping - but any indictments could take months.

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