ROME – Former Lazio captain Giuseppe Signori was among 16 people arrested on Wednesday for alleged involvement in a match-fixing and betting ring throughout Italy.
Others arrested included current players in Serie B and C, executives for lower-level clubs and betting operators.
The police operation was based in Cremona and arrests were carried out in more than 10 cities across the peninsula. Matches under investigation included some involving Atalanta and Siena, prosecutors said, which could put the two clubs' recent promotion back into Serie A at risk.
There was a failed attempt to fix a Serie A match between then-European champion Inter Milan and Lecce at the San Siro in March, Cremona prosecutor Roberto Di Martino said. Inter won 1-0.
Signori was the Lazio captain in the mid-1990s and led Serie A in scoring in three seasons. He also made 28 appearances for Italy from 1992-95, scoring seven goals.
Signori, who retired in 2006, allegedly led a group of bettors in Bologna that had a direct impact on the match-fixing, according to the ANSA news agency. He was put under house arrest.
''Don't you have any pity in this situation? Have some mercy. I can't say anything. I will meet with my lawyer and then he'll speak for me,'' Signori told ANSA.
Di Martino told a news conference that the investigation began following a Serie C match between Cremonese and Paganese in November. Cremonese players allegedly had their drinks spiked with drugs so they wouldn't play well, and several players felt ill afterward.
''One player was involved in an unexplainable car accident, after which Cremonese registered an official complaint with the police,'' Di Martino said, adding that the drug used was a sleep medication.
The betting ring is suspected of paying off one or more players on a team to fix a match, and then placing large bets on legal bookmaking websites mostly based in Asia, to avoid betting being suspended for abnormal patterns.
''The inquiry is focused on this season, but my impression is that this went on for years,'' Di Martino said.
Others arrested reportedly include two players with Serie B's Ascoli - defender Vittorio Micolucci and midfielder Vincenzo Sommese - Benevento goalkeeper Marco Paoloni, plus former Serie B and C player Gianfranco Parlato.
In addition, some 30 people are under investigation for alleged involvement, including Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni and former Serie A player Stefano Bettarini, ANSA said.
One of Italy's biggest soccer betting scandals came in 1980, resulting in numerous arrests and bans for club officials and top players, including Paolo Rossi, who returned to lead Italy to the 1982 World Cup title.
In 2006, a major match-fixing scandal restricted to club and referee officials - not involving players - resulted in Juventus getting relegated to Serie B for a season, plus point penalties for several other Serie A clubs.
Multiple legal cases and appeals from the 2006 scandal are still under way.
''We certainly didn't need this right now,'' said Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. ''But let's wait and see until we know something more definitive before we issue judgment.''