Hours after being named a suspect in a tax fraud case regarding the signing of Neymar, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the club was the victim of an “attack” involving fierce rival Real Madrid and the Spanish state.
Bartomeu said late Tuesday in an interview on Catalan television that “all this comes from someone who did not want (Neymar) to come to Barca.”
“All we have done is bring a player like Neymar (to the club). Barca, its executives, its employees nor its directors have done anything wrong,” Bartomeu said. “Neymar’s father said that he had a better offer from Madrid, and that did not go down too well.”
Bartomeu added that the probe, which started by National Court judge Pablo Ruz investigating whether former president Sandro Rosell misappropriated funds to hide the transfer cost paid for Neymar, was also motivated by Barcelona’s links with the regional independence movement in Catalonia.
“I don’t have any evidence but there are facts,” he said. “Last year we allowed the stadium to be used for the ‘Freedom Concert,’ and we played a game wearing the Catalan national flag kit. (A) Catalan independence march passed through Camp Nou (Stadium) and so perhaps that was not to everyone’s taste. … I am convinced that there are certain powers of state that are not happy that Neymar came to Barca.”
Real Madrid said it had no comment when telephoned by The Associated Press.
The Spanish league president said he didn’t believe Madrid had any part in the court investigation, but he also said he had his doubts about the legal standing of Ruz’s decision to name Bartomeu a suspect.
“(Ruz’s) writ contains juridical errors,” Javier Tebas said. “But I don’t see Real Madrid’s hand behind this.”
On Tuesday, Ruz said he would investigate whether Bartomeu, as club president, defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of 2.8 million euros ($3.2 million) in 2014. Prosecutor Jose Perals said Barcelona’s unpaid taxes — including the amount attributed to Bartomeu’s oversight — amounted to more than 12 million euros.
Bartomeu insisted the transfer cost paid by Barcelona to secure Neymar’s move from Brazilian club Santos in 2013 was 57 million euros.
“We said the signing cost 57 million (euros) and we stand by that figure,” Bartomeu said. “There are some contracts that Barca interprets one way, and the national court another, that is where the difference lies.”
Bartomeu is summoned to appear before Ruz in a Madrid court on Feb. 13.
This is the latest blow to Bartomeu since he took over when Rosell resigned in January 2014 after being named a suspect in the Neymar investigation.
Last month, Bartomeu was forced to call for early elections to be held this summer— the date is still not set — following the club’s failure to overturn FIFA’s one-year transfer ban for violating rules on signing youth players. That led to Bartomeu firing sports director Andoni Zubizarreta and announcing he would cut his mandate short by one year to hold elections he hoped would stabilize the club until the end of the season.
Bartomeu reiterated on Tuesday his intention to run for another term.
Neymar, who turns 23 on Thursday, is having an excellent second season with Barcelona. He is the team’s second-leading scorer behind Lionel Messi, with 22 in 26 appearances.