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MONEY LAUNDERING

Prosecutors deny AC Milan money laundering investigation

Italian prosecutors have denied media reports that they have opened an investigation into whether the deal to sell AC Milan to Chinese investors last year was inflated for money laundering purposes.

Prosecutors deny AC Milan money laundering investigation
Chinese businessman Li Yonghong (R) led the group of investors that bought AC Milan in April 2017. Photo: AFP

“As it stands no criminal proceedings have been opened regarding the sale of AC Milan,” said Francesco Greco, the chief prosecutor of the city of Milan.

“Any information regarding an investigation of Silvio Berlusconi is totally false.”

However, Italian daily La Stampa have refused to retract their story that Milan prosecutors want to know if the 740 million euros paid to former Italian prime minister Berlusconi to buy out the seven-time European champions was overvalued in a deliberate move to bring large sums of money into Italy from abroad.

“La Stampa stresses that it carried out the correct checks regarding the existence of the investigation, of which it was made aware by two different sources, and it confirms what was written,” the newspaper wrote in a rebuttal to Greco's denials.

Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi's long-time lawyer, claimed that La Stampa's story was false and politically motivated ahead of Italy's upcoming general elections, which take place on March 4th and in which media magnate Berlusconi heads up Forza Italia, the country's main centre-right political party.

“There is evident will to defame and that can only be explained by a desire to interfere in the elections,” Ghedini said.

“What's even worse is that yesterday evening we were warned that this story would be published by La Stampa,” he continued.

“Straight away we explained to the editor and one of the paper's journalists that the story was completely unfounded and false, but the story was nevertheless published.”

After more than 30 years in the hands of Berlusconi, a glorious period which saw the club win 29 trophies including five European Cups, Milan were sold on April 13th last year to a group of Chinese investors led by Li Yonghong.

The consortium took 99.93 percent of the club's shares and also bought out its debt, which stood at 220 million euros on June 30th, 2016.

But the number of investors has progressively diminished in the face of difficulties in getting the funds out of China, where tougher legislation on the movement of money abroad was recently introduced.

Li was forced to set up his company in Luxembourg and obtain financial support from the US investment fund Elliott in order to push the deal through.

Elliott agreed to lend more than 300 million euros, but at interest rates of up to 11 percent and with full repayment within 18 months, according to Italian media.

Milan lavished large sums on new signings prior to this season but the Rossoneri are struggling in 11th place in Serie A, 23 points behind leaders Napoli.

READ ALSO: AC Milan faces UEFA financial fair-play penalties

FOOTBALL

‘Not here as a mascot’: Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic warned on Friday he was not back at AC Milan just to act as a mascot and immediately got off the mark for his new club by scoring in a friendly against a local lower league side.

'Not here as a mascot': Zlatan scores in first match at AC Milan
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic shows off his new AC Milan jersey on Friday. Photo: Marco Bertorelli/AFP
“I'm ready, I feel more than alive, I hope to play immediately,” the 38-year-old told a press conference in Milan before scoring and setting up another in a 9-0 friendly win later in the day over fifth-division Rhodense.
   
“I'm not here as a mascot. I'm looking for the last bit of adrenaline I might have. At my age you're not looking for anything else but a challenge. “I have not lost my passion for what I do.”
   
Ibrahimovic has signed a six-month contract worth 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) with the option for an additional season, seven years after he left Milan for Paris Saint-Germain.
   
Hundreds of fans waited outside the club's Casa Milan headquarters to catch a glimpse of the returning hero who helped the fallen Italian giants win their 18th and last Serie A title in 2011.
   
He greeted them holding the number 21 jersey aloft, having worn the number 11 during his previous spell at the club.
 
“I got more requests now than when I was 28,” said Ibrahimovic, who parted company with MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy in October.  “I wanted adrenaline and at Milan you can't say no. It's a club I love, in 2012 I didn't want to leave.”
   
His first league game could be against Sampdoria on Monday at the San Siro.
   
“I want to feel the grass and the atmosphere of the stadium, if they boo the adrenaline will increase, and at the end of the game they will applaud.”
   
Ibrahimovic scored 56 goals in 85 appearances in his first spell at Milan, and scored more Serie A goals for the club (42) than anyone else in the last decade.
 
'Make the difference'
 
One of the most successful clubs in the world, the seven-times European champions languish 11th in the Serie A table, 14 points away from Champions League football and just seven away from the relegation zone.
   
Club legend Paolo Maldini contacted the Swede after he left LA Galaxy and the calls intensified after a 5-0 loss to Atalanta, their heaviest defeat in 21 years.
   
“After Atalanta I got lots and lots of calls, it wasn't a difficult decision in the end,” continued Ibrahimovic.
   
Ibrahimovic said that going to the United States after his career-threatening knee injury at Manchester United had refuelled his passion.
   
“A year ago (former AC Milan sporting director) Leonardo had looked for me but I still didn't feel ready to make a difference in Italy.
 
“I only had one MLS championship in my legs after the injury. Now I feel alive, more than alive,” continued the Swede, who scored 53 goals in 58 games for LA Galaxy.
 
“Things need to be improved on the pitch and that's why I'm here. I know perfectly well that I can't play like when I was 28 or 35, but smart players know how to manage themselves — you can run less and shoot more from 40 metres.”
   
With 116 games for Sweden and 62 goals, Ibrahimovic is the all-time leading scorer for the Swedish national team.
   
He started his career at Malmo before going on to play for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, PSG and Manchester United, winning trophies with all these clubs.
   
Milan chief football officer Zvonimir Boban warned that the club would not just be counting on Ibrahimovic.
   
“We must not hide behind the broad shoulders of Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” said Boban. “We hope the course of the season will change and are optimistic about the effect he will have on the team and the environment, but we need results.”
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