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Barca president points finger in Neymar tax probe

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu pointed the finger at his predecessor on Friday over allegations of tax fraud linked to the signing of Brazilian striker Neymar.

Barca president points finger in Neymar tax probe
Photo: AFP

During three hours of questioning in a Spanish court hearing behind closed doors, Bartomeu denied any wrongdoing and said the incidents under investigation took place in 2013 when the football club was headed by Sandro Rosell, judicial sources said.

He told the Madrid court it was Rosell who negotiated and drew up Neymar's multi-million euro contract with Barcelona, the sources added.

Rosell, who is also a suspect in the case, resigned as president over the affair just over a year ago when a complaint brought by one of the club's members for misappropriation of funds was taken to court.

Bartomeu, who was vice-president of the Catalan club at the time, replaced Rosell as president in January 2014.

Judge Pablo Ruz at the National Court charged Bartomeu last week with tax fraud and ordered him to appear in court over alleged tax evasion worth €2.85
million ($3.26 million).

Spanish public prosecutors called for Bartomeu and the club as a whole to be tried on the tax fraud allegations relating to Neymar's transfer from Brazilian club Santos in 2013.

They allege the club and Rosell paid more for Neymar than the €57 million that they declared to the Spanish taxman.

Prosecutors believe the figure was 82.7 million euros divided into separate contracts that secured the signing.

In his testimony before a judge on the case in July 2014, Rosell insisted that Neymar cost the club €57 million, 17 of which went to Santos and 40 million paid to N&N, a company owned by the player's father.

However, following Rosell's resignation, Barcelona also confirmed a number of extra agreements including a signing bonus for the player and scouting and collaborative agreements.

The court has raised questions over a payment made at the start of 2014 of five million euros to N&N. Prosecutors argue that the club should have paid €2.8 million in tax related to that payment.

During questioning on Friday, Bartomeu said that while the payment was made in 2014 while he was already president, the legal obligation stems from the contract that was signed in 2013 when Rosell was in charge.

In February of last year, the club announced that they had made a voluntary payment of €13.5 million to the Spanish tax authorities to settle any outstanding tax debts related to Neymar's contract.

Barcelona said Bartomeu “gave explanations to everything he was questioned about” during his court appearance.

“He made it clear that it has never been his intention, nor that of the club's executives, to aim to defraud the National Tax Office,” it added in a statement.

Bartomeu called a presidential club election for the end of this season due to rising pressure on his board and intends to stand as a candidate.

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FOOTBALL

Barça seek Super Cup tonic to Neymar hangover

Barcelona host rivals Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday badly in need of a morale-boosting win following the world record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.

Barça seek Super Cup tonic to Neymar hangover
Barcelona forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Photo: AFP

Despite banking 222 million euros for the Brazilian, Barça's scattergun approach to finding a replacement has so far been unsuccessful with bids for Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele of Borussia Dortmund so far rebuffed.

New Barça coach Ernesto Valverde must therefore try to down the European and Spanish champions with a weaker squad than the one which missed out to Real for the La Liga title last season.

However, Barça did manage to beat Madrid without the then-suspended Neymar the last time the sides met in competitive action back in April as Lionel Messi won an incredible encounter 3-2 with the last kick of the game.

The Catalans also edged last month's Miami friendly between the two in Neymar's last game for Barça 3-2.

Valverde's men completed a perfect pre-season on the field with a fourth straight win by sweeping aside Chapecoense 5-0 on Monday in a match to raise funds for the stricken Brazilian club who lost 19 players and 24 club officials in a plane crash last year.

“We've had a good pre-season and we are coming into the game in good condition,” said Valverde.

“But on Sunday the real thing starts, with a competitive game and a title at stake against our biggest rivals.”

Gerard Deulofeu was handed Neymar's role alongside Messi and Luis Suarez up front against Chapecoense on his return to the club after spells at Everton and AC Milan.

And the Spanish international took his chance with a goal and two assists in just 45 minutes on the field.

“It is always a pleasure to play here and even more so with these players,” said Deulofeu.

Valverde is likely to stick with Deulofeu, but the former Athletic Bilbao coach could also strengthen Barça's midfield by sacrificing a forward to add Sergi Roberto to the normal midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta.

Despite failing to win any of their pre-season games, Madrid started the new campaign as they ended last season with another trophy as Zinedine Zidane's men proved too strong for Manchester United to win the UEFA Super Cup 2-1 on Tuesday.

Casemiro and Isco were on target as Madrid's midfield dazzled in Skopje, Macedonia, but Zidane will be forced into at least one change from the side that started in midweek as Luka Modric is suspended.

Should Zidane wish to maintain the 4-4-2 system he has utilised to huge success in 2017, Mateo Kovacic is the favourite to replace his Croatian teammate in midfield.

However, Modric's absence increases Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of returning to the Madrid starting XI after making just a brief cameo appearance as a substitute against his former club in Macedonia.

Ronaldo only returned to training with his teammates last weekend on their return from a tour of the USA having been given an extended break following Portugal's participation in the Confederations Cup and a court appearance in Madrid over allegations of tax evasion.

READ ALSO: Annoyed Barça won't pay Neymar bonus