Just days before Palermo were set to play in the Italian second division promotion playoffs with a spot in Serie A hanging in the balance, the Italian soccer authorities hit the Sicilian club with a relegation penalty that will send them into the third division next season. The authorities handed down this automatic relegation on Monday after discovering the club’s involvement in a money laundering scheme spearheaded by its former owner.
The gist of the scheme is simple but remarkably bold: according to a statement by the tribunal and summarized by Football Italia, former club owner Maurizio Zamparini sold the Palermo brand to a company he owned, before renting it back to the club for a minimal sum. The court went on to say that there was “systematic activity aimed at circumventing the principles of sound financial management and aimed at representing the state of health of the referred company in a manner that is not faithful to reality.”
The court said Palermo shouldn’t have even been allowed to play in Serie B this season, since the fraud occurred between 2014 and 2017. Zamparini had previously tried selling the team, accepting a takeover bid from Paul Baccaglini in 2017, before the bid fell through four months later. As Reuters pointed out, Zamparini finally sold Palermo this season, which kicked off a wild ride that has seen it change hands three times in less than six months:
Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini sold the club to British-based Sport Capital Group for the symbolic price of 10 euros (£8.66) in December.
Three months later, ownership was transferred to Zamparini’s associates Daniela De Angeli and Rino Foschi. Last week, the club was taken over again, this time by Italian-based Arkus Network.
This is but the latest twist in a Serie B season plighted by financial shenanigan-based catastrophe. The league had to start the season with only 19 teams instead of the usual 22, after the soccer authorities had to boot Bari, Cesena, and Avellino from the league for various financial irregularities. You might find it surprising to see just how rampant economic mismanagement and shady off-the-books dealing is at such a high level of European sporting competition if you didn’t remember that this is 1) soccer, and 2) Italy.