“There is a campaign against Spain”
Real Madrid and Barcelona presidents hit back over allegations engulfing clubs
Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez went on the offensive Thursday in the face of mounting suspicion over the very fabric of the beautiful game in Spain: "There is a campaign against Spanish soccer," the construction magnate said after a week in which the European Commission had announced a widespread probe into illegal state aid received by seven Liga clubs, including Real Madrid. In particular, the commission is interested in a land swap deal between the club and Madrid authorities that was hugely favorable to the Bernabéu club: City Hall valued land in Real's possession at 22 million euros, when 13 years earlier it had been worth 595,000.
"Everything was carried out in accordance with the law," Pérez said at a meeting with reporters. "There has already been a complaint. There has already been an investigation. They have already tried to harm us. And nothing happened."
Real, along with Osasuna, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, is also being investigated over the fiscal benefits derived from being exempted from a 1990 law obliging all the other Spanish clubs to become public limited sports companies.
"The difference between the corporate tax rates of 25 percent and 30 percent has been damaging to Real Madrid," Pérez added. "In the last 10 years we have had to pay 13 million euros more in taxes than if we had the 30-percent rate." The Bernabeú president said that Real's status as an association was, financially, "a negative."
Warming to his theme, Pérez then denied there had been any assistance from nationalized Spanish lender Bankia, which was rescued with a 30-billion-injection from the European Stability Mechanism, in the signing of Wales international Gareth Bale last summer in a deal reported to be worth 100 million euros.
The enormous scandal we are talking about amounts to 100,000 euros per team per year"
"The problem is that there is always somebody with bad intentions who says this or that, it ends up in the commission, someone there says something and all of a sudden Bankia signed Gareth Bale. It is not true. Nobody paid for Bale, Real Madrid paid for him because we had 520 million euros of income. We paid using that and I'm annoyed that I keep having to say the same thing."
Spain's secretary of state for sport, Miguel Cardenal, also weighed into the debate: "The image of Spanish sport has been seriously tarnished," by the EC probe, he stated. "I was especially interested by the matter of the four clubs that are not public limited sports companies and I have asked for their economic reports from the past four years. If the complainant is right, the enormous scandal we are talking about amounts to 100,000 euros per team per year. It is preposterous to believe there has been state aid. [European competition commissioner Joaquín] Almunia should clarify the situation. That a scandal has erupted over 100,000 euros requires an explanation."
Javier Tebas, president of the Professional Football League, shared Pérez's view that Spain is suffering from its own success. "Spanish soccer is being questioned because we win a lot of titles and this leads to assumptions that there has been state aid when there hasn't been."
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, who is facing the EC probe into his club as well as a High Court investigation into the terms of the transfer of Brazilian star forward Neymar following a complaint lodged by a board member for wrongful appropriation, claimed that the reigning Liga champion is the victim of a smear campaign: "It's not just a sensation; it's there in black and white," he said Thursday. "We'll see if the fact that all of this has come up at the same time is coincidence or not. All of this has come after years of Barcelona being at the top."
In reference to an investigation into suspected money laundering by drug cartels through charity matches involving Barça star Leo Messi, Rosell said that "the Interior Ministry has said there is no link at all to Messi's people," adding: "The attacks keep coming."