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Lazio and Milan have no case to answer-lawyers

Written by: Staff
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ROME, July 6 (Reuters) Lazio and AC Milan have no case to answer in a match-fixing trial, their lawyers said today a day after Juventus said the champions might accept relegation to the second division.

In an apparent split between the four clubs under investigation, lawyers for Lazio and Milan said their clubs had done nothing wrong to justify the mandatory relegations proposed by a sports tribunal prosecutor.

In a case that has rocked Italy just as fans celebrate the national team qualifying for Sunday's World Cup final against France, the prosecutor has charged the three clubs plus former champions Fiorentina with sporting fraud.

He has recommended that Juventus, Serie A champions in the past two seasons, be sent down to the third division while AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio be demoted to the second division.

Yesterday, Cesare Zaccone, a lawyer for Juventus, told the hearing that if his clients were found guilty ''an acceptable punishment could be that of the other clubs, in other words (relegation to) the second division with points deducted''.

Lazio lawyer Gian Michele Gentile said on Thursday that the Rome club would not be following Juventus in suggesting an acceptable punishment.

''We at Lazio are innocent. We don't have anything to admit.

Obviously Juventus' lawyers have decided it was better to do it like that. But we at Lazio do not have anything to hide,'' he said on his way into the tribunal in Rome's Olympic Stadium.

The judges are looking into suspicions the clubs, their management, Italian football officials and referees tried to influence the outcome of matches by interfering with the appointment of referees, charges denied by the accused.

''PROUD TO BE MILAN'' Marco De Luca, a lawyer for Adriano Galliani, the vice-president of six-times European champions Milan, conceded during the hearing that his client ought to have denounced what he knew of irregularities.

But omission was not an offence, he said.

''AC Milan has brought this federation, of which you (the judges) are also a part, many, many trophies. We will be respectful of your decisions. But we are proud to be Milan,'' he declared.

AC Milan is owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who has said the investigation is part of a campaign against him.

The sports tribunal will not hand out penal sentences. A separate magistrates' investigation in Naples has yet to decide whether to press criminal charges against some of the accused.

The scandal broke in May with the publication of intercepted telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and Italian Football Association officials, discussing refereeing appointments in the 2004-05 season.

The tribunal has said it aims to deliver its verdicts on Monday, the day after the World Cup final in Berlin.

REUTERS PM VC1702

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