Soccer-Troubled Bari bought by former referee Paparesta in auction

ROME, May 20 (Reuters) - Former referee Gianluca Paparesta, who was investigated in the infamous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, won the right to buy troubled Serie B club Bari for 4.8 million euros ($6.6 million) in an auction on Tuesday.

Paparesta beat off three other bidders for the club’s sporting licence, which has been in the hands of the bankruptcy tribunal since March.

If his bid is confirmed as successful by the court, a new club called Football Club Bari 1908 will take their place in the league.

“This is a great project for a great club and a grand fan base,” Paparesta told reporters.

The Bari-born former referee turned television pundit and ex-Bari city councillor, who turns 45 on Sunday, refused to say who was providing the financial backing, but Italian daily La Repubblica reported that an Irish consortium was behind his bid.

A group of around 50 Bari fans gathered outside the tribunal and the ANSA news agency reported that they chanted “Gianluca one of us”.

Paparesta was investigated during the calciopoli scandal which rocked Italian football in 2006 but never faced charges.

He was suspended as a referee in 2008 and after a lengthy and unsuccessful appeal process resigned in 2010.

Bari, who are sixth in Serie B and bidding for a return to the top flight via the playoffs, finally announced bankruptcy earlier this season after years of financial problems left the club with debts of 30 million euros.

Good recent performances on the pitch have meant that the team have been playing in front of bumper crowds with around 35,000 spectators watching the 1-0 win over Cittadella on Monday.

Bari have been through troubled times in recent years. They began the 2012-13 Serie B season with a seven-point deduction for financial irregularities and their role in the “Calcioscommesse” match-fixing scandal.

Four Bari players were banned over suspected match-fixing involving several Serie A games during the 2010-11 season, when they were relegated.

They included former defender Andrea Masiello who was banned for 26 months.

With his side already relegated Masiello scored an own goal in a 2-0 defeat by local rivals Lecce, who were themselves relegated to the third-tier Lega Pro as a result of the scandal. ($1 = 0.7289 Euros) (Reporting by Terry Daley, editing by Ed Osmond)