Juve’s Conte investigated in match-fixing probe
Juventus coach Antonio Conte is under investigation and Lazio captain Stefano Mauri was arrested as part of a police probe into a widening match-fixing scandal on Monday, leaving Italian soccer in chaos on the eve of another major tournament.
Italy defender Domenico Criscito, who like Conte and Mauri denies the allegations, has also been formally targeted in the investigation and officials have decided to leave him out of the squad for June’s Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine and Poland.
Police visited Italy’s Coverciano training base on Monday where Cesare Prandelli’s side are preparing for a friendly with Luxembourg on Tuesday.
Prosecutor Roberto Di Martino said the raid only concerned ex-Genoa man Criscito, who plays for Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg, and did not involve other national team players.
However, Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci — who is in the provisional Euro squad — has been linked by prosecutors with another match-fixing probe in Bari where he used to play.
He has denied wrongdoing and has not been formally put under investigation but Juve president Andrea Agnelli was forced to defend his player as well as Conte at a hastily arranged news conference by the Serie A champions.
“Conte’s position does not worry me because I am aware of his values of honesty and loyalty that I have known for 20 years,” Agnelli said of allegations which relate to Conte’s time in charge of Siena when they were promoted from Serie B in 2010/11.
“In this moment I am side by side with Conte and Bonucci, who I hope has a splendid Euros. Conte will be our coach and will lead us next season in Serie A and the Champions League.”
Police said they had made 19 arrests and were investigating Conte, who this month led Juve to surprise Serie A glory for the first time since the club were stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles in another match-fixing scandal.
He is being investigated on suspicion of sporting fraud and fraudulent association over allegations concerning a match between Siena and Novara in April 2011. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing involving Juve.
Monday’s raids by around 280 police in 23 cities cast a further shadow over Italian soccer which has still not fully recovered from the 2006 “Calciopoli” match-fixing scandal which was followed by Italy winning the World Cup against the odds.
Police arrested Mauri and former Genoa midfielder Omar Milanetto, now with Serie B side Padova.
All the arrests were in connection with fixtures last season between Lecce and Lazio, and Lazio and Genoa.
Di Martino said there was an “absolute superabundance” of evidence about the Lecce-Lazio match. He added gamblers appeared to win around two million euros ($2,50 million) on the game and paid 600000 euros to bribe the players.
A police statement said five people were also arrested in Hungary on suspicion of involvement in an illegal international betting ring headed by arrsted Singaporean Tan Seet Eng.
Conte’s involvement in the investigation, following mounting media speculation he would be dragged in, was a big blow to Juve after a spectacular season when the team were unbeaten until they lost the Italian Cup final to Napoli on May 20.
“I always want to win,” Conte told the news conference.
“With Siena we enjoyed a fantastic year winning an extraordinary championship. Having read the warning (I was under investigation), I would have expected at least to be called by the prosecutor.”
Monday’s operation was part of “Last Bet”, a wider investigation into match-fixing in Italian soccer which has already seen a number of arrests of current and former players.
Police said searches were carried out at the homes of players, coaches and administrators of clubs in Serie A, Serie B and the lower division Lega Pro on suspicion of involvement in match-fixing on behalf of international criminal organisations.
In June last year, the Interior Ministry set up a match-fixing task force in response to a number of high-profile cases.
Ex-Atalanta captain and Italy midfielder Cristiano Doni was banned for three-and-a-half years in August for his part in the
’Calcioscommesse’ scandal involving Serie B matches last term.
Atalanta, promoted from Serie B, were deducted six points in the top flight this season as a result.
Former Lazio and Italy striker Giuseppe Signori was banned for five years and 15 other players were suspended for between one and five years for their part in the same scandal.