MILAN – A Florence court ruling Wednesday returned the rights to all free TV broadcasts of Italian league soccer and its national championship to media tycoon Vittorio Cecchi Gori, at the expense of Italo pubcaster RAI.

The decision, which remains provisional pending a final verdict and evidence that Cecchi Gori has the funds to buy the rights, marked the latest round in a battle between the owner of Italy’s two private TeleMonteCarlo channels and RAI. This season’s soccer – covered by RAI – is not subject to the ruling, which affects the next two seasons.

“It’s a great triumph for our group, but we were sure that the law was on our side,” said Luciano Luna, managing director of Cecchi Gori’s Fiorentina soccer club.

Cecchi Gori Communications, the holding company of TeleMonteCarlo (TMC), TMC2 and VideoMusic channels, issued a statement: “We have suffered a grave injury which has delayed our development and has deprived us of the rights to soccer for an entire season.” It said Cecchi Gori would seek damages.

Cecchi Gori was awarded the television and radio rights in February. But Cecchi Gori’s stations, whose signals cannot be received throughout all of Italy, failed to deposit bank guarantees to cover the bid and in March offered to withdraw their offer “as a sign of responsibility.” In April, RAI said it had regained the rights after further discussions with the Milan-based soccer league. But Cecchi Gori challenged the move and police impounded documents relating to the controversial auction.

Wednesday, the judge ruled that Cecchi Gori would retain the rights only if it presented a $140 million bank guarantee by March 20, 1997.

The rights do not cover PPV broadcasts of Italian league soccer, broadcast in coded form, which belong to the Telepiu 2 channel. (Reuters contributed to this report.)

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