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Police raid Italian soccer squad's base in match fixing investigation

updated 6:27 AM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012
Italy defender Domenico Criscito was spoken to by Italian police in their investigation into match fixing
Italy defender Domenico Criscito was spoken to by Italian police in their investigation into match fixing
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Italian police arrest 19 people, including 11 players, in match fixing investigation
  • Police question Juventus coach Antonio Conte who recently led club to Italian title
  • Officers also descend on Italian national team's training camp to question Domenico Criscito
  • Lazio captain Stefano Mauri is arrested as well as Genoa midfielder Omar Milanetto

(CNN) -- Italian police descended on the national team's Euro 2012 training base Monday to speak to Zenit St Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito as part of a wide-ranging investigation into match fixing.

The 25-year-old, formerly of Genoa, was questioned by officials probing gambling markets linked to fixing results of matches in the Italian top flight.

A total of 19 people were arrested in the ongoing investigation by magistrates in Cremona, 11 of them players in Italy's top division.

Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who led the club to the Serie A title last season, was spoken to by police, while Lazio's captain Stefano Mauri was arrested.

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As a result of the dawn raid on Italy's training camp at Coverciano, near Florence, Criscito decided to withdraw from the forthcoming Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) vice-president Demetrio Albertini said Criscito was hugely disappointed to miss out but that he quit in order to protect the rest of the squad.

"Criscito decided not to join Italy at the Euros. The tournament is no longer his priority, he wants to get in touch with the prosecutors as soon as possible to clear his position," Albertini said.

"We are with him, we believe in his innocence: until no evidence is proved, he should be considered innocent."

Prosecutors said the left-back was seen in a restaurant with match fixing suspects during his time at Genoa but the player has also protested his innocence.

Criscito's agent Andrea D'Amico said: "Criscito is calm but very surprised. He just joined a dinner with fans, a meeting asked by fans after the derby Genoa lost to Sampdoria in 2011.

"He didn't know any of the ultras involved. He can't understand how he could be connected to this story. As soon as possible he will ask prosecutors to be interrogated."

As someone who has been abroad for years it's a pity that these things cast a dark shadow over our football
Giovanni Trapattoni

Roberto Di Martino, chief prosecutor in the case, told a press conference the police's swoop on Italy's base was solely related to Criscito.

"We shouldn't place too much emphasis on the blitz at Coverciano," he said. "It is a problem that concerns only Criscito and not other players in the national team at the moment.

"Also we shouldn't place too much emphasis on this anyway, the notification of an impending investigation is a tool we have, but not a guilty judgment. There's been no action taken against Criscito travelling, he can play at the Euros easily."

Police said Juve manager Conte was being quizzed in relation to sporting fraud accusations relating to a match played by Siena, the club he used to coach. Conte's lawyer said his client was completely innocent.

Siena's president, Massimo Mezzaroma, has also been placed under investigation.

Di Martino added: "There are seven, eight games being looked at and there have been statements that make us think they were manipulated. The searches involved players, coaches and directors of the club, including Conte and Mezzaroma."

The tournament is no longer (Criscito's) priority, he wants to get in touch with the prosecutors as soon as possible to clear his position
Demetrio Albertini

Di Martino also revealed the investigation was spreading beyond Italian borders, with five people arrested in Hungary.

"We have evidence that this Hungarian gang worked to fix in Serie A 2010-11 the games between Bari and Sampdoria, Lecce and Lazio and some others.

"We have different evidence of their presence in Italy and of their contacts with people from Singapore, where the money is coming from."

The arrests are the latest in a long running saga that has cast a shadow over Italian football. In 2006 the Calciopoli match fixing scandal saw Juventus relegated to the second tier and stripped of two league titles.

Seventeen people were arrested in a similar swoop last year, the most high-profile of which was Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni. He was subsequently banned from the game for three years.

Giovanni Trapattoni, who coached the Italian national team for four years, said the latest twist represented "devastating news."

Trapattoni, who now coaches Ireland, said: "What could be the Italian team's reaction? On one side it is clear that news like this can bring people down, but it could also push them to show the clean face of football.

"As someone who has been abroad for years it's a pity that these things cast a dark shadow over our football."

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