By Tony Attwood
Seven Spanish clubs including (of course) Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have been ordered to repay tens of millions of euros in illegal state subsidies. While the amount having to be paid in fines will hardly be noticed by either club, and while the world’s media will continue its eternal love affair with the clubs, the fines are just one more sign that corruption runs deep in some parts of football.
With Barcelona having been banned from transfers for a year for child trafficking offences, and with court appearances by players seemingly a constant backdrop to the club’s activities, and with Real Madrid currently under investigation for similar offences regarding children, it takes a very large blindfold indeed these days, to pretend that everything is ok with Spanish football.
But the UK’s media, bending the knee as ever to the great god of live TV, somehow manage to pretend that everything is ok, and that we should all carry on watching the teams as if everything was straight and above board.
Maybe one day someone will ask why it is that Real Madrid, the world’s top-earning football club, should actually get involved in the sort of scams that it has been found guilty of. Instead of pointing out that the fine €18.4m will mean nothing to them, perhaps it would be better to ponder what mind set allows them to get involved in a land exchange with their local authority that was so obviously bent that one most certainly didn’t need to be able to speak Spanish to see it must be wrong.
Margrethe Vestager delivering the verdict as EU competition commissioner, said that, “Using taxpayers’ money to finance professional football clubs can create unfair competition. Professional football is a commercial activity with significant money involved and public money must comply with fair competition rules. The subsidies we investigated in these cases did not.”
In the way that it always seems to go in Spain, it is not the big boys that get the biggest fine. Valencia have that honour, being handed down a €20.4m repayment bill to the Spanish government for having benefited from state loan on favourable terms. They, and two other clubs, were given loans on preferential terms by the Valencia Institute of Finance.
Four teams (of course including Real Madrid and Barcelona this time with Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Osasuna in tow) will also have to pay fines for favourable tax treatment not available to other clubs. Spain has since changed its tax law to stop it all happening again. (You might remember the farcical piece the Independent newspaper ran in the UK in which the president of Barcelona claimed that they paid a higher percentage of tax than any other club in Europe. Untold was, I think, the only publisher that called that piece out as the most insane piece of nonsense ever. Now the EC has agreed – Barcelona has been operating on favourable tax terms for years).
These findings, along with a series of not guilty verdicts in the case of a group of Dutch clubs, bring the current round of investigations to a close – and this has happened without any mention of some seemingly strange issues concerning the transfer of Bale to Real Mad.
That particular tax probe was launched after it became clear that although Barcelona repeatedly claimed that they paid €57.1m it turned out the cost was nearer €100m.
Following that outrage FC Barcelona’s former president, Sandro Rosell, resigned after accusations of misappropriation of funds. This scandal followed on the Lionel Messi tax fraud in which Messi and his father were accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros of Messi’s income earned through the sale of his image rights.
The judge in charge of that case ruled that “there are rational signs that the criminality was committed by both accused parties”. The case included hidden financial arrangements for his endorsement of Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company. Matters were made worse when the Panama Papers were released which revealed a huge amount more in relation to the activities of Messi and his father.
They opened a company in Panama in June 2013, just after the allegations of tax fraud arose and seemingly used it to continue to hide income earned from image rights from Spanish tax authorities, according to Spanish news site El Espanol. The Messi family acknowledged the existence of the company.
So does it mean that we just have to accept that clubs like Barcelona are remorselessly defrauding the state and cheating no matter what?
Certainly given the range of their offences in particular from child trafficking to tax fraud, the answer seems to be yes. No one is really making a big fuss. Except Untold, I guess.
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Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page