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Aussie TV exec swept up in football scandal

A senior executive at SBS has resigned from a separate role at a top Italian football club after a major scandal involving allegations of false accounting saw the entire board dramatically step down last week.

SBS director of television Kathryn Fink took up the role at the public broadcaster earlier this year. She previously held senior international media roles including as managing director of Fox Networks Group Italy, and played a key role in the launch of Sky Italia in 2003.

Ms Fink, who speaks fluent English and Italian, had also been an independent board director of Juventus FC since last year.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s former club, which is listed on the Milan stock exchange and boasts the largest fanbase in the Serie A football league, was plunged into crisis last month amid allegations of false accounting and hidden payments to players.

The entire board, led by long-time chairman and club president Andrea Agnelli, resigned en masse last Monday after receiving independent legal advice over the investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office.

“I was an independent director on the board from October 2021,” Ms Fink said in a statement on Thursday. “Given ongoing proceedings, it’s not appropriate for me to provide further comment.”

The allegations date to before Ms Fink joined the board of Juventus, and there is no suggestion she has engaged in any wrongdoing.

SBS declined to comment.

Ms Fink replaced Marshall Heald at SBS, who departed the broadcaster after 14 years.

In a statement announcing her appointment in June, SBS managing director James Taylor praised Ms Fink’s “passion for the distinctive content that defines SBS”.

“Among the standout programming she has commissioned is Romanzo Criminale, a crime drama series that was a catalyst for change in the Italian TV industry, Le Fate Ignoranti which recently won the Nastro D’Argento award for best TV series and Where are You, a National Geographic documentary which traced the human stories behind a migrant boat arriving on the shores of Italy,” Mr Taylor said.

Juventus FC probe

Juventus is being probed over 282 million euros ($A442 million) of capital gains from a series of player transfers booked in its financial results for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Prosecutors in Turin have also been investigating the possibility the club presented false accounting information to investors and produced invoices for non-existent transactions over that period.

At the start of Covid, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help through the crisis, but it is alleged the players only gave up one month’s salary, according to reports.

Last year, Juventus said it was co-operating with investigators but believed it had “acted in compliance with the laws and regulations governing the preparation of financial reports”.

But in a statement last week, the board of Juventus said it had “obtained new legal and accounting opinions from the independent experts appointed to assess the issues raised” by prosecutors.

“With reference to the issues relating to so-called ‘salary manoeuvres’ (‘manovre stipendi’) of the financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, the board of directors acknowledged the complexity of such profiles on valuation elements which may be subject to different interpretations regarding applicable accounting treatments and carefully considered possible alternative treatments,” the statement said.

“The board of directors’ members, given the centrality and the relevance of the pending legal and technical/accounting matters, considered in the best interest of the company that Juventus provided itself with a new board of directors to address these matters.”

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) announced last Tuesday it had also opened an investigation into similar allegations.

In the wake of the mass resignations, Spain’s LaLiga wrote to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) demanding “immediate sports sanctions be applied on the club”.

“LaLiga filed an official complaint against Juventus with UEFA in April 2022 reporting financial fair play breaches being investigated by Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, an enforcement agency under the authority of the country’s Minister of Economy and Finance, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Court of Turin,” the statement said.

“Specifically, this complaint charges that Juventus accounted for transfers above fair value and under-accounted for employee expenses, resulting in a breach of UEFA break-even requirements.

“Additionally, the complaint charges that Juve concealed the true wage bill of its players.

“This Monday, in the same statement announcing the resignation of its board of directors, Juve acknowledge financial accounting irregularities, which are also aimed at misleading UEFA financial fair play authorities, among others.”

Juventus was among eight clubs fined by UEFA in September over failing to comply with break-even requirements last season, ESPN reported.

What is discovered by prosecutors will then be passed on to the FIGC, which has powers to sanction clubs with a range of punishments, from fines to being kicked out of the league.

Juventus said last week it would “continue to co-operate with the supervisory and industry authorities”.

Memories of Calciopoli

Mr Agnelli, a scion of one of Italy’s most powerful and richest families, had been at the helm of Juventus since 2010.

Both his uncle Gianni and father Umberto had been past chairmen of Juventus. He had taken over after the darkest period in the history of the club – known as ‘The Old Lady’ – due to the Calciopoli scandal in influencing the appointment of referees.

Juventus was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 titles and relegated to the second tier, though it won promotion immediately in the 2006-07 campaign.

“The shock at the time is easy to imagine,” Roberto Beccantini, a former correspondent with La Stampa newspaper, told the BBC in 2019.

“Half the country was happy that Juventus had been punished, while the other half – the Juventina – was angry and spoke of conspiracy.

“Even though we have had scandals like doping, false passports and betting, I think this is the biggest sporting scandal the country has seen.”

However, under the chairmanship of Agnelli, 46, the glory days returned.

The Turin giants won nine straight Serie A titles as well as reaching the 2015 and 2017 Champions League finals.

Mr Agnelli sent an emotional farewell letter to the club’s employees, according to Italian media.

“When the team is not compact … this can be fatal. At that moment you need to be lucid and contain the damage,” the letter read, according to reports.

“We are facing a delicate moment from a corporate point of view and compactness has failed.

“Better for everyone to leave together, giving a new team the chance to turn the match around.”

Exor, the holding company which owns 63.8 per cent of Juventus, proposed corporate adviser and auditor Gianluca Ferrero to replace Mr Agnelli.

Managing director Maurizio Arrivabene has been asked to stay on for an interim period while a new board could be brought together.

Shareholders are set to meet on January 18 to appoint the new board.

– with AFP

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