by Tony Attwood
I am not sure that it was covered by that much by the media in England at all, but FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu is, it seems, only one step away from being found guilty of corruption. His latest appeal in the case of the transfer of the Brazilian striker Neymar in 2013 has now be rejected by the Spanish High Court in Madrid.
The case was earlier moved to a special court reserved for complex cases, and that court looked at the case of Neymar himself, the involvement of Barcelona FC, the involvement of Santos, (the player’s Brazilian club) and the company N & N, which was created by the parents of Neymar.
That now leaves the investigating judge in charge of the case free to order the indictments to be brought before a court of law for a trial to be held at a National Hearing.
There are indications that Josep Maria Bartomeu is said to have participated in a crime of “corruption between individuals” relating to the agreements signed in 2011 between Barça and Santos for the transfer not having fully respected the “free market of transfers of footballers “.
The Catalan club, it is said, had signed not one but two contracts with Neymar and his parents’ company: N & N. It is suggested that in effect these contracts prevented other clubs from bidding for the player – in violation of the “free market” rules.
The judge has said in his decision handed down in court that the intervention of Josep Maria Bartomeu is “clear” since he was then vice-president of the club “with direct responsibility for sport, acting in this case as if he were the president.” Indeed Bartomeu succeeded Sandro Rosell as president in 2014.
The argument is that the two presidents committed an offence deciding to sign these contracts “without informing the management of Barcelona, and without informing Santos. It is also said that they failed to inform DIS, the Brazilian investment fund that then owned a portion of the player’s rights, and which would thus be directly affected by the move from Santos.
According to the court Barça had officially listed the transfer of the player as being for 57.1 million euros with 40 million going to the Neymar family, and 17.1 for Santos. But according to the Spanish justice department the amount of money changing hands was at least 83.3 million euros.
The case is yet another embarrassment for Barcelona who have had to see through the child trafficking scandal, and most recently the questions that continue to be raised about the refereeing in their “remarkable” victory against PSG in which a series of somewhat out of the ordinary decisions by the referee allowed them to secure passage to the next round.
In other corruption news, in France, the national financial prosecutor’s office has said it had placed four people in police custody and carried out a dozen searches in connection with an investigation into crimes “committed in connection with several transfers of football players between French clubs and clubs playing in the Premier League.”
A little more has emerged about this case as the British authorities have suggested that they suspect there have been “hidden payments for certain players, their agents or third parties, allowing them to evade taxes,” according to the French national financial prosecutor.
Image rights continue to be at the heart of the case, and it is no coincidence that in a report published in January, the British Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts pointed to abuses in this area.
The rules in force in the UK allows footballers to declare image rights income separately from their main income derived as a player. It is suggested that this loophole, combined with the application of the preferential system of so-called “non-domiciled” taxpayers, allows them to reduce their tax. Reports in France now suggest that investigations had been opened on 43 footballers, 8 agents and 12 clubs.
Interestingly the British press, restricted from publishing much on this through their collective agreements with the Premier League not to publish matters which are not already in the public domain, and which could reflect badly upon the league, and its officials, have said very little on the case.
This operation is part of the wider framework led by the British tax administration into the football industry which has been going on for years, and which started with the attack by Revenue and Customs on the agreement by clubs to pay football creditors first, when a club went into liquidation.
It is being said that over £80m in tax payment is due by certain clubs to the Revenue whose spokesman said, “This criminal investigation sends the clear message that no matter who you are, if you commit tax evasion, you must be prepared to bear the consequences.”
Last year in an event seen by some as the firing of the starting pistol in the attack on footballing practice, Tony Pulis (now at WBA) lost a High Court case and was ordered to pay £3.7 million damages to his former club Crystal Palace. He had claimed a decision by the Premier League Managers’ Arbitration Tribunal that he should repay money owed to Palace was unfair and challenged Palace in the High Court.
In a judgement in that case Sir Michael Burton said Pulis had a contract which would see him get a £2 million bonus if he kept Palace in the Premier League in 2013-14 and stayed in the manager’s job until August 31 2014. And quite simply Pulis had kept Palace in the top flight but had not stayed until August 31 2014.
Crystal Palace complained that Pulis had deceived them into paying the bonus early by saying he “urgently needed the money early” so that he could buy some land for his children. Naively (one might think) Palace gave Pulis £2m on August 12 2014. It makes me feel that is the sort of employer I would like to work for.
The arbitrators had concluded that Pulis made “false representations” and that he had not been “committed to the club”, had not intended to stay until August 31 and “there was no such land transaction”. They also concluded that he had not told the truth and “deliberately misled” Palace chairman Steve Parish “concerning his intentions”.
They added that,”By any standards his conduct (prior to and during the litigation) has been shown to be disgraceful.” The judge then enforced the damages awarded by the arbitrators. The judge said that the arbitration panel had heard evidence behind closed doors and he too had also analysed Pulis’s challenge at a private hearing – in line with judges’ normal policy. But he then said he thought it appropriate that his ruling should be made public – presumably so everyone could judge Pulis’ conduct.
That move to make that case public is seen by many as part of a move by the legal process in the UK to get tougher with football’s well-heeled employees. In the light of the latest developments it can be seen as a public announcement of what was going to come next.
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