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Aurelio De Laurentiis targeted by massive tax evasion probe looking at 35 Italian clubs

Napoli's owner is among several prominent executives of Serie A teams targeted by a tax fraud investigation.

Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

You would think that something called "Operation Offside" would be a group looking to help improve the woeful state of Serie A referees being able to correctly apply the offside rule. You would be wrong. Operation Offside is the name of a task force investigation launched by the Naples public prosecutor's office targeting football executives and players who are or have been in Italy and involved in tax evasion -- and Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is one of its targets.

De Laurentiis is far from alone in being under the microscope, however -- the investigation is targeting dozens of executives, including AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, Lazio president Claudio Lotito, Palermo owner Mauricio Zamparini, and Fiorentina owner Andrea Della Valle. They're among 45 club directors named, representing 35 of the 42 teams in the top two tiers of Italian football. A number of players have been implicated as well, including Ciro Immobile and former Napoli players Ezequiel Lavezzi, Emanuele Calaio, and Ignacio Fideleff.

Reports indicate that the investigation is looking into a "deep rooted system designed to evade tax" that has been used by clubs in Italian football for a number of years, and authorities have already seized over €12 million in assets related to the case. While this doesn't have the dark overtones of the calciopoli scandal involving match-fixing, such a wide-spread tax scandal surely won't do anything to improve the already-battered public image of Italian football.

For their part, Napoli are denying any wrongdoing involved in the case:

Yesterday the Prosecutor of Naples notified President Aurelio De Laurentiis of the conclusion of preliminary investigations involving a VAT dispute for a total amount of €8,321.04.

The club and its lawyers place our absolute confidence in the work of the judiciary, and confirm that Napoli have always worked in strict compliance with all applicable regulations, and are therefore certain that this will be reflected in a dismissal of the proceedings.

-Translated quote source: Football Italia

Fortunately, it seems like any direct culpability of De Laurentiis in this case seems relatively minor -- €8,000 is significantly smaller than €12 million after all. We cannot, however, take Napoli's confidence of acquittal at face value, as any group implicated in such an investigation would make a similar statement, whether they were innocent of the accusations or not.

This looks like something that's going to be involved in the headlines for quite awhile yet to come. Hopefully it doesn't wind up being as bad as it looks, and that even in the worst case scenario for Calcio, Napoli avoid the worst of the storm.