Lazio legend denies having links with Camorra


SOCCER:THE LAZIO legend Giorgio Chinaglia was this week served with an arrest warrant on charges he had spearheaded an attempt by the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, to buy out the club.

The former centre forward, who lives in New Jersey, USA, was one of 10 people for whom Rome magistrates heading the "Broken Wings" investigation issued arrest warrants.

Chinaglia, capped 14 times for Italy, has long been a hero for Lazio fans, largely because of his major contribution to the club's first Serie A title win, in 1974, a season when he scored 24 goals.

Born in Carrara, Tuscany, Chinaglia grew up in Wales, having moved there with his family at the age of nine, and went on to make his professional debut with Swansea City in 1964.

Towards the end of his playing career, he moved to the USA playing alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer with the New York Cosmos from 1977 to 1982.

Although he has been based in the USA since then, Chinaglia has been a regular visitor to Italy.

Owner of Lazio from 1983 to 1985, he was forced to relinquish the club when it risked financial collapse under his management.

More recently, Chinaglia resurfaced in Italy in 2004 when he attempted (unsuccessfully) to broker a sponsorship deal with the present Lazio owner, Claudio Lotito.

Throughout the following season, Chinaglia was again a regular presence in Italy, claiming he represented a group of industrialists keen to buy Lazio.

Statements made by him to the Italian media in March 2006 regarding possible new owners prompted a 30-per-cent hike in the value of Lazio shares and induced Consob, the stock market regulatory board, to ask Chinaglia just who were the intending buyers.

At first, Chinaglia claimed he was acting on behalf of a Hungarian pharmaceutical firm, Gedeon Richter Rt. When that company denied any knowledge of the affair, Chinaglia claimed the potential buyers were a consortium headed by the Budapest bank Investkredit, who also denied any interest in purchasing Lazio.

According to investigators, however, Chinaglia was in reality working for the Casalesi family, one of the most powerful and violent Camorra crime families, who hoped to use the club to "launder" Mafia revenues.

The entire operation was allegedly masterminded by the Camorra godfather Giuseppe Diana, currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for a series of Mafia-related crimes.

Via a Rome-based financier, Guido di Cosimo, the Camorra are alleged to have made contact with Chinaglia, hoping to use the prestige and goodwill created by his name in order to buy out the club.

Chinaglia was offered a €700,000 fee for his professional expertise, while €24 million was allegedly made available to him in order to buy the club.

Having been approached by Chinaglia in 2006, Lotito registered a formal complaint to police, arguing that the source of prospective funding was not clear.

In April 2006, Rome magistrates opened an investigation into Chinaglia, charging him with market rigging and insider trading.

One month later, the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (DIA), the anti-Mafia investigating body, opened a second investigation into Lazio, an investigation that resulted in the 10 arrest warrants served this week.

Contacted in New Jersey, Chinaglia yesterday denied any involvement with the Mafia, arguing his attempt to buy the club had been clean and above board and telling Italian reporters he was innocent.

"What Camorra?" he asked. "I don't even know these guys. I can't understand how they can make an accusation like this.

"All I wanted to do was buy Lazio with a healthy, normal transaction. I was convinced that I was working in the best interests of a club that I love. I acted in perfectly good faith."

The history of Italian football is littered with Mafia-related incidents, perhaps the most famous being that which concerned Napoli's Argentinian ace Diego Maradona, who was accused of involvement with the Giuliano crime family.

Argentinian journalists, present in Naples on the May 1987 day when the club won their first Serie A title, related how they had been invited by Maradona to a lavish party in a Camorra godfather's house in the Neapolitan suburb of Nola on the night of the title-clinching league game.