CORRUPTION IN SPORT

Ex-Barça player posts picture of himself with liver donor in bid to quell rumors

Barcelona prosecutor considering reopening the case, after wiretaps suggest the illegal purchase of an organ for Éric Adibal, who is now the soccer club’s technical secretary

Gerard and Abidal in hospital in 2012, in an image published by the ex-player today.
Gerard and Abidal in hospital in 2012, in an image published by the ex-player today.Twitter

Former FC Barcelona soccer player Éric Abidal has today posted on Twitter a photo of himself and his cousin Gerard in a hospital room, in a bid to dispel doubts about the legality of a liver transplant the pair underwent in 2012 after the former was diagnosed with cancer.

This week, a story originally published by Spanish online news site El Confidencial detailed wiretapped phone calls in which the former president of the club, Sandro Rosell, has several conversations with a man referred to as “Juanjo.” During the course of these chats, the pair appear to suggest that the liver that Abidal received was paid for illegally by the club, and that his cousin was not, in fact, the donor.

The tweet published today by Abidal.

In the message posted today, Abidal, who is from France and is now Barcelona’s technical secretary, said: “With the publication of this image I would like to call for respect for my cousin Gerard, and defend his honor. I am publicly denouncing the attitude of certain media outlets who continue to place in doubt the legality of the procedure that saved my life. Enough is enough!”

The existence of the photo shared today was known about by FC Barcelona, which suggested to Abidal that it should be published in order to quell the rumors. But Abidal, who issued a press release shortly after the news of the wiretaps broke this week, in which he stated that all procedures and protocols had been followed, called on the team to deal with the issue his way. He refused to hold a press conference, nor publish the photo, which he argued was an invasion of his privacy. Saddened by what was happening, Abidal called on the club for calm. But just 24 hours later, he decided to publish the picture himself.

As revealed by Spanish news website El Confidencial, three of Rosell’s phone calls tapped by the Spanish authorities put into doubt whether the donor was Abidal’s cousin, as the then-player had stated, and suggested that the organ was instead illegally paid for by the club. Abidal had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor at the time.

In the recordings made by the Civil Guard, “Juanjo” is recorded complaining about the attitude of Abidal toward the club’s board. “He’s going against us,” the man says on the tape. “We bought an illegal liver for this guy.” Rosell is heard to agree. Junajo adds: “And we sold the story that it was from his cousin. From his cousin!” Again, Rosell agrees, saying “Yes, yes, yes.” In total there were three calls that pointed to an alleged fraud related to the transplant.

The case was passed to the courts by the Civil Guard, on the basis the recording suggested the offense of organ trafficking may have been committed. However, it was shelved earlier this year after the French authorities did not provide any information in response to a letters rogatory sent by a Barcelona court seeking information about the transplant process, on the basis that the offense in question does not have an exact equivalent under the criminal code in France.

It emerged today that the public prosecutor in Barcelona is now considering reopening the case. Judicial sources said that prosecutors are examining whether there is sufficient evidence for the investigation to be widened.

Also in response to the news story, the Spanish National Transplant Organization, the Catalan regional health department, and the Clínic Hospital in Barcelona, which is where the procedure was carried out, all announced on Thursday that they would be opening an internal investigation to ensure that there was no wrongdoing and that the very strict procedures in place for a transplant from a live donor were respected.

Former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has been in pre-trial custody for over a year, ahead of his trial for money laundering and criminal organization offenses related to funds allegedly siphoned off from the Confederation of Brazilian Football and the broadcast rights of the national team’s games, as well as money from the sponsorship deal the team had with sports clothing giant Nike.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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