Just a month before the World Cup begins in Qatar, Brazilian superstar Neymar goes on trial in Barcelona over alleged irregularities in his transfer to Barça nearly a decade ago. He is facing calls for a prison sentence of up to five years.
The trial follows a lengthy legal saga over his 2013 transfer from the Brazilian club Santos, with the 30-year-old Neymar (full name Neymar da Silva Santos Júnio) in the dock as well as his parents, whose company manages his affairs. All three are facing charges of business corruption.
Investigators began probing the transaction after a 2015 complaint filed by DIS, a Brazilian company that owned 40% of the player’s sporting rights when he was at Santos.
Barça said the transfer cost €57.1 million, but prosecutors believe it cost at least €83 million.
The club said it paid €40 million to N&N, a company owned by the Neymar family, and €17.1 million to Santos, of which €6.8 million was given to DIS.
But DIS alleges that Neymar, Barça and the Brazilian club colluded to mask the true cost of the deal.
A total of nine defendants are on trial on corruption-related charges, among them two former Barcelona presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and ex-Santos boss Odilio Rodrigues Filho.
Rosell and Barça are facing charges of fraud and corruption, while Filho and Santos are accused of fraud.
Alongside the prosecution’s case, DIS — the sports investment firm owned by Brazilian supermarket chain Sonda — has filed its own suit, alleging collusion to defraud it out of its real share of the deal.
‘Neymar Junior, with the complicity of his parents and FC Barcelona and its directors at the time, and Santos FC at a later stage, defrauded DIS of its legitimate financial interests,’ said its lawyer Paulo Nasser.
It also claims financial harm from the pre-contract agreement between Neymar and Barça which impeded other clubs from making offers for the player, affecting the value of the transfer fee. It is seeking to recover €35 million.
As well as demanding a five-year jail term for the player, DIS are also requesting a €149 million fine for Bartomeu and Rosell, as well as an additional prison sentence.
However the Spanish prosecutors who are bringing the case want only a two-year term and €10 million fine for Neymar, and five-years for Rosell as well as a €8.4m fine for Barça.
But Neymar’s family lawyers, Baker McKenzie have issued a statement of their own, which dictates that the transfer broke no FIFA laws, and that the alleged crimes are not punishable in the forward’s home country.
The trial is to run until 31 October, barely three weeks before the World Cup begins on 20 November, with Neymar due to lead Brazil into their Group G opener against Serbia four days later.
Neymar is expected in court when the trial opens, although his presence has not been officially confirmed, and will testify on either 21 October or 28 October.
On day two, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez will take the stand to explain how a 2011 secret pre-contract deal between Barcelona and Neymar influenced the market.
The 2013 transfer also caught the attention of the Spanish authorities who opened a tax fraud investigation into Barcelona. In 2016, they reached a deal with the club agreeing to pay a €5.5 million fine to avoid going to trial.
Neymar’s lawyers insist their client is innocent, saying the €40 million was a ‘legal signing bonus which is normal in the football transfer market’.