Italian Refusal to Freeze Libyan Assets Deepens Juventus FC’s Embarrassment

The Italian government has dashed Juventus FC’s hopes to escape further embarrassment over its association with embattled Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadaffi and his family by deciding not to freeze Libyan assets in Italy.

The Italian decision was based on the fact that Libyan entities holding stakes in Italian companies, including Juventus FC, and Unicredit, Italy’s largest bank which owns AC Roma, are not included on an EU assets freeze list, Reuters news agency quoted a source familiar with the matter as saying.

Libyan investments in Italy, the oil-rich North African nation’s main investment target have been under scrutiny since the European Union earlier this week imposed sanctions on Libya, including a freeze on assets of Gaddafi and senior Libyan officials.

The anonymous source told Reuters that Italy would not unilaterally freeze Italian assets unless it was obliged to do so by measures adopted by the European Union.

Italian officials note that the EU list does not include Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), or the Libyan central bank -- entities that hold stakes in Italian companies.

"The rule does not say their stakes have to be frozen," the source said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a cabinet meeting on Thursday had not discussed a possible freeze of Libyan assets.

Libya has a 7.5 percent stake in UniCredit and is with another 7.5 percent stake Juventus’s second largest shareholder after the Agnelli family, owners of Fiat.

Juventus officials had hoped that an Italian freeze on Libyan assets would resolve their public relations dilemma of being associated with an internationally condemned and embattled leader and help them cut their umbilical cord with the Gadaffis.

Juventus’s predicament is heightened by the fact that many Italians fear that the Libyan turmoil could bring a wave of refugees on to their shores at a time when Italy is suffering its own economic woes.

The club’s association with the Gadaffis contrasts starkly with Juventus's insistence that it seeks to reconcile the "professional and business side of football with its ethical and social role".

The club did itself few favours when a spokesman suggested last week that the Gadaffis had been model investors.

"They've always supported the company [Juventus], for example they participated fully with the recent capital increase in 2007. We are an investment for them," Marco Re, the spokesman, said.

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