Barcelona soccer club president Josep Maria Bartomeu embraces the theory that the best defense is a good offense. Just a few hours after the High Court made him an official target in a tax fraud investigation involving its signing of Brazilian forward Neymar, Bartomeu denounced what he sees as “a ferocious attack” against the soccer club, possibly caused by the political and sporting rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona.
According to Bartomeu, whose predecessor Sandro Rosell is also being investigated for tax irregularities arising from the signing of the forward, the origin of all the legal trouble is the fact that Barça’s main rival, Real Madrid, was also after Neymar.
“That signing triggered a move by somebody who didn’t want [Neymar] to come to Barcelona, and that’s what created this conflict,” said the club president in statements to Catalan TV station 8TV’s 8 al dia program.
“I don’t want to mention any clubs, but what Neymar’s father said is true,” he added. “He had two offers, one higher than ours from Real Madrid. But Neymar opted for Barcelona and very likely that did not sit well in certain circles. Neymar made his contribution, and Barcelona is doing well. And now we have this new legal wrangling.”
Bartomeu has been subpoenaed to testify on February 13 before High Court Judge Pablo Ruz, who will decide whether to try him for tax irregularities. A recent report by the Tax Agency holds that Barça failed to hand over to the state €2.6 million in income tax for the year 2014 in connection with a €5 million salary payment made to Neymar, who was already a fiscal resident in Spain at the time.
In an audience survey, 35 percent of 8TV viewers said they felt the legal case against Barça had something to do with the Catalan independence drive
The club may have also failed to hand over €234,000 in taxes derived from Neymar’s image rights in 2014, and another €11,700 involving representation rights, for a total of around €2.8 million.
Bartomeu’s predecessor Sandro Rosell resigned in January 2014 after he was officially named in an inquiry into alleged financial irregularities for the years 2011 and 2013. The club itself is also being investigated.
In the TV interview, Bartomeu also suggested there could be a political element to the persecution he believes the club is suffering. In an audience survey, 35 percent of 8TV viewers said they felt the case had something to do with the Catalan independence drive.
“I have no evidence, but we gave permission to use Camp Nou for the Freedom Concert, we played with shirts that displayed the senyera [the unofficial Catalan flag used by supporters of independence], and maybe somebody didn’t like that. All of that could be taking a toll on us from a sporting and political point of view.”
Another Barça player, Lionel Messi, is also being targeted for alleged tax fraud. In recent years, authorities have carried out high-profile inspections against celebrities from the world of sports, arts and entertainment, including opera singer Montserrat Caballé and tennis player Rafael Nadal.