Judge wants past and present Barça chiefs to stand trial in Neymar case

Soccer club itself also faces court over tax irregularities in signing of Brazilian superstar

Fernando J. Pérez
Ex-Barça chief Sandro Rosell with Neymar during the player’s presentation.
Ex-Barça chief Sandro Rosell with Neymar during the player’s presentation.Albert Olivé (EFE)

A Spanish High Court judge wants to place Barcelona soccer club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and his predecessor Sandro Rosell, as well as the club itself, on trial for tax and administrative crimes over the signing of Brazilian star Neymar.

In a judicial order issued on Friday, the examining magistrate, Pablo Ruz, decided to press ahead with a case that opened in 2013, and rejected Bartomeu and Rosell’s request for a stay of proceedings. With the investigation phase ended, the case now moves to the prosecution so that it can present its accusation writ within the next 10 days.

Ruz believes that Rosell, Bartomeu and the club may have incurred in as many as three different counts of tax fraud as a result of money they failed to hand over to the Tax Agency in connection with the contracts signed to bring Neymar to the team from Brazilian side Santos.

More information
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He calculates that the club paid a total of €83,371,000 for the player, notwithstanding other contingent amounts, and raises the amount of tax defrauded to €13 million. The size of this sum is one of the main reasons why the case comes under the jurisdiction of the National High Court rather than a Barcelona court, as Rosell had requested.

The prosecutor, José Perals, feels that Barça should have withheld income tax on Neymar's payments, as the player had already established his fiscal residence in Spain. But the club failed to do so.

Regarding the responsibility of current Barça president Bartomeu, who was only officially targeted in the case last month, the judge states that he was a key figure in the drafting of the contracts, as well as in moving the transfer forward and authorizing contract-related payments in 2014, on which tax went unpaid, as it also did in 2011 and 2013.

The judge accepts the view of tax experts in the case that the tangle of contracts used to sign the Brazilian were aimed at “covering or hiding what they constituted in reality: a higher cost to the club of signing the player,” in order that tax payments might be surreptitiously avoided or reduced.

The web of contracts signed between Barcelona and Neymar’s father’s firm allowed directors to make club members believe that the operation cost €57.1 million when in reality it was €94.8 million.

The original lawsuit was brought by a club member after he asked Barça to clarify the Neymar deal and received no reply

The original lawsuit was brought by club member Jordi Cases, after he asked the club to clarify the Neymar deal and received no reply.

Rosell stepped down in January of last year after becoming an official target of the investigation into tax irregularities that may have been committed in 2011 and 2013 in connection with the Brazilian player’s move. His place was taken by vice-president Bartomeu, whose term runs out in 2016.

Bartomeu was targeted last month after the public prosecutor asked the judge to investigate whether last year he also failed to pay the Tax Agency €2.8 million in taxes relating to Neymar’s transfer.

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