Football

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Players banned over false passport scandal

By Frances Kennedy in Rome

A dozen players have been banned from competition for a year at the conclusion of an inquiry into the false passports scandal which had dogged the Italian season. Senior club officials were also suspended for up to two years and the teams involved heavily fined.

A dozen players have been banned from competition for a year at the conclusion of an inquiry into the false passports scandal which had dogged the Italian season. Senior club officials were also suspended for up to two years and the teams involved heavily fined.

The disciplinary committee of the Italian league examined charges that clubs had obtained false European passports for their players to get around the limit of only three non-EU players on the pitch at a time.

The Italian federation's prosecutor had asked for much tougher sentences – a two-year ban for most players – and stiffer fines. Most of the players involved are from Latin America.

Among those suspended from the Italian championship until 30 June 2002 was Internazionale's Uruguayan striker Alvaro Recoba. However, another South American, Lazio's midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, was cleared. While the others used false passports, his was genuine, but based on false citizenship documents produced by an office in Rome.

On this basis Sergio Cragnotti, the Lazio president, was also cleared along with the club's sporting director Nello Governato, though another Lazio executive, Felice Pulici, was banned from club duties until next June and the club fined £666,000.

"What I've been saying all along has now been recognised – that in the Veron affair, both Lazio and the player were tricked," Cragnotti said.

Veron had played on an Italian passport obtained by intermediaries who had claimed that the player had Italian ancestry through a great-great grandfather who emigrated to Argentina a century ago.

"This has removed a burden from me, now I can quietly ponder my future," Veron said. However, the case is not closed for the 26-year-old Argentinian. In May a court indicted him and Cragnotti on charges of using false documents to obtain an Italian passport. A trial date of 11 October has been set.

Roma were also caught up in the inquiry with two players, Fabio Junior and Gustavo Bartelt, suspended until next June and a £500,000 fine imposed on the newly crowned Serie A champions. Milan lost their third-choice goalkeeper, the Brazil international Dida, until the end of next season and received a £300,000 fine.

Two other Brazilian players, Vicenza's Jeda and Dede, were also banned. One of the hardest hit clubs was Udinese, who lost four players – Warley, Alberto, Jorginho and Da Silva. Udine's fine was £1m. Three young African players at Sampdoria – Mekongo Ondoa, of Cape Verde, and Thomas Job and Francis Ze, of Cameroon – were banned for six months and the Genoa club fined £500,000.

While the bans and the fines are a blow for the clubs involved, they have at least avoided the prospect of punishments that would lose them points in the championship just concluded.

The disciplinary commission faced heavy criticism after the sentencing. The Reggina president, Lillo Foti, felt the punishments were too soft. "I am worried, although I was expecting this type of verdict," he said.

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