Infront confirms inquiry for Serie A TV rights

Genoa president Enrico Preziosi. (Tanopress/AP)

ROME — A sports marketing agency run by the nephew of suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter confirmed Tuesday that the head of its Italian branch and two associates are under investigation for "alleged manipulation" over the sale of lucrative Serie A TV rights.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Infront said prosecutors in Milan opened a probe against branch president Marco Bogarelli, Andrea Locatelli and Giuseppe Ciocchetti "related to an alleged contribution to undue financing practices in Italian football and an alleged manipulation of the administrative process" for the sale of the 2015-18 domestic rights.

The Switzerland-based marketing firm Infront Sports and Media is led by Philippe Blatter.

"Infront as a company is not facing a formal probe in these subject matters," the company said. "Infront and its local management are co-operating with the authorities to establish the accuracy or otherwise of the claims."

Italian media say Bogarelli fixed a deal between Sky, Mediaset and clubs for the rights.

The 2015-18 live rights were sold to Rupert Murdoch-controlled Sky and Silvio Berlusconi-controlled Mediaset for 943 million euros (slightly more than $1 billion) per season, 114 million euros ($130 million) more than the previous deal.

The presidents of Serie A clubs Lazio and Genoa, plus Serie B’s Bari, are also reportedly under investigation as part of the expanding inquiry.

Genoa owner Enrico Preziosi and Bari president and former referee Gianluca Paparesta are being investigated by prosecutors in Milan for accepting illegal payments from Infront in order to register their clubs with league authorities, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday.

Italian leagues demand that clubs display healthy budgets at the start of each season in order to begin play.

Lazio president Claudio Lotito was being investigated for obstructing the work of watchdog body Covisoc, Corriere said.

Taxe and Finance consultant Andrea Baroni, who Italian media have linked to Infront, was arrested Friday on charges of criminal association aimed at money laundering and tax evasion.

"Infront has and never had whatsoever business relationships or involvements with the Swiss consultancy company Tax & Finance and/or Mr. Andrea Baroni," Infront said.

Preziosi supposedly accepted a 15 million euro ($17 million) payment that was made through Switzerland and can be traced back to Infront and tax consultancy company Tax and Finance.

"I added the money needed for our budget," Preziosi said, confirming that Genoa’s offices were searched by financial police on Friday. "The account is traceable and all of the operations were done simply and clearly, so if needed we are prepared to provide any explanation that authorities request."

Infront paid 500,000 euros (more than $500,000) to sponsor Bari’s second shirt.

Lawyer Gian Michele Gentile said Lotito, a member of the Italian soccer federation’s council, has not been officially notified of the inquiry.

Financial police also reportedly raided the offices of Mediaset’s Reti televisive italiane (Rti).

Mediaset also issued a statement saying all of its workers "have always worked completely within the rules."

Milan prosecutors could not be reached for comment.

Italian football has been rocked by scandals over refereeing arrangements, betting and match-fixing in recent years. Most notably, the 2006 Calciopoli scandal resulted in Juventus’ relegation to Serie B and penalties for several other top clubs.

"Football keeps on reminding us that it’s not just a rolling ball but also scandals, investigations and a series of trial cases," Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said. "This saddens us."

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