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By Riccardo Fabiani and James Eve

Written by: Staff
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ROME, July 7 (Reuters) The head of a sports tribunal investigating match-fixing in Italian football hit back today at defence lawyers who protested the case was proceeding too quickly.

''Many say the defence is being compressed. But every trial has its own characteristics, including sports trials,'' retired judge Cesare Ruperto told the tribunal which has cast a shadow over the Italian national team's march to the World Cup final.

''Nobody here is smothering the rights of the defence.'' The court is aiming to wrap up its hearings later on Friday, little more than a week after it began. No witnesses are being allowed and video footage of matches is prohibited.

Four of Italy's most successful soccer clubs -- Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio -- have been accused of sporting fraud by a sports prosecutor.

Champions Juventus risk relegation to Italy's third division and the others could go down to the second. The prosecutor also wants the four teams to be docked points next season.

A defence lawyer sought to belittle the tribunal today, saying it was beneath a judge of Ruperto's experience.

''Certain people have asked how a former president of the Constitutional Court could take charge of a trial in which the defence is so restricted,'' said Marco Rocchi, representing former Italian Football Federation official Innocenzio Mazzini.

The prosecutor says the clubs and 26 officials from the teams, soccer authorities and matchday officials tried to influence matches by interfering with the selection of referees and linesmen.

CHARGES DENIED All the accused have denied the charges against them. But a lawyer for Juventus has said the club might agree to relegation to Italy's second division, if found guilty.

The judges are aiming to deliver a verdict on Monday, the day after the World Cup final between Italy and France.

Any appeals must be cleared up by July 27, before a UEFA deadline for the nomination of clubs taking part in European competitions. However, officials from some of the clubs in the dock have said they will turn to civil courts if necessary.

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

Italy's justice minister on Friday revived suggestions that an amnesty might be suitable so as not to punish players from the hugely popular Italian national side. Others rejected the idea.

''I don't think it will happen because that would render this whole trial pointless,'' said Lazio lawyer Gian Michele Gentile, asked about calls for an amnesty if Italy win the World Cup.

REUTERS AY HT1932

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