There Are Sentinels Among Us

Last week the OECD released a report highlighting the existence of laundered money in football (link to the pdf at the bottom). It offers reason to believe the spread of this phenomenon is far more over reaching than previously thought, and due to football's relatively lax regulations the link is much too close for comfort.

Beyond the rather obvious interest for any football fan even remotely interested the game beyond Cristiano Ronaldo's latest free kick and the umpteenth mind blowing game by Iniesta--he has that affect on me--it takes on special importance for romanisti in light of this spring and summer's takeover attempt. At the time of writing this (and it's unlikely to change any time soon) Mediobanca has deemed Vinicio Fioranelli unable to account for where the money ear marked for the deal comes from, as well as unable to present guarantees that all the money needed to gain ownership of AS Roma even exists.

There have been parallels made between the failed coup d'etat at Lazio in 2006, in which the Neapolitan crime clan the Casalesi bankrolled former club icon, and officially crazy mofo Giorgio Chinaglia, who acted as a go-between for a 'Hungarian group' and Lazio's owner and president Claudio Lotito. The plot was uncovered in literally about five minutes, though, whereas Fioranelli according to himself has been in talks to buy Roma for roughly six months. This would seem to be able to appease suspicions that the Casalesi, or another clan for that matter, is trying again to insert themselves into the world of calcio via Roma.

But nonetheless, the money is unaccounted for, and this is obviously a problem. Not just according to my own mind, but evidently so says Mediobanca too--in fact, it's a complete deal breaker. Then, the question poses itself according to many fans: Mediobanca, friend or foe? Are they doing this for the reasons stated, that they're worried about the lack of clarity into the money's origins, or are they really just reluctant to sell to foreigners? This latter version includes both theories of Mediobanca wanting Roman entrepreneurs getting a piece of the pie, and the money ending up back in Mediobanca sooner or later, and indirect orders from above (think north) from Berlusconi and the rest of the calcio ruling class. I've heard both versions.

Enter Piero Grasso, anti-mafia judge, colleague, collaborator and latter day successor to the likes of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. To ANSA he said today: 'It was right of the OECD to sound the alarm on the risk of criminal infiltrations and mafiosi into football, and Mediobanca did very well to want to verify the origins of the money that enters into the system'.

This closes it for me, this is the voice of authority we needed to comment on the matter. Note that Grasso is not suggesting Fioranelli is de facto trying to launder money through Roma, but that according to one of the most experienced professionals in the field, the investigation, or inquiry, into the money's road to Rome was warranted. Mediobanca, and Geronzi, for all their faults, did act correct in this matter. Consider this quote from the OECD report and how that very awareness requested was demonstrated for further proof: 'while criminals use creative schemes to exploit the football sector, lack of awareness of money laundering risks associated to football could contribute to the problem. Very often there is a lack of awareness amongst some key players about their responsibility in the process of fighting illicit activities'.

I pretend not to speak for other fans than myself, but for me clean money and relative mediocrity on the pitch is to prefer over bargaining with the devil for short lived success--assuming, naively, that people like the Casalesi would be bothered with anything except for maximizing their own profit, and hardly long term investments and planning. This spring Malena at l'Eco der Core interviewed a city assessor about what the city can do to prevent organized crime from getting involved in the contracts for building Roma's and Lazio's stadiums. The construction business is of course dominated by organized crime--throw a dart at a map of Napoli, and you're overwhelmingly likely to hit an area constructed by the camorra, in some regard. It was a quite excellent question, and unfortunately something that's been lacking so far in the discourse of takeovers and stadium building. I welcome these past weeks of development which will hopefully bring with it some level of maintained insight into football's off the court structure.

OECD report: Money Laundering through the Football Sector [pdf] >>