Ex-Barcelona president: Fans must oppose Neymar tax settlement
Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta says that a deal cut with the Spanish tax authorities over the signing of Neymar in 2013 should not be allowed as it stains the club's image while "saving the behinds" of current leaders.
Barca have announced that they have reached agreement with Spain's tax authority, Hacienda, to pay €15 million in owed taxes and a €5.5m fine, while admitting the club was at fault in the complex transfer which brought Neymar to the Camp Nou. The deal also sees current Blaugrana president Josep Maria Bartomeu and predecessor Sandro Rosell cleared of any personal wrongdoing.
Bartomeu and Rosell had faced potential jail sentences for their role in constructing the initial transfer deal, with Neymar and his parents also named as potential parties in the fraud case brought by the tax authorities.
The controversial transfer with Brazilian club Santos was put together in such a way that the "transfer fee" element was just €17m, with Barca making an extra €40m "compensation" payment to a company controlled by Neymar's parents, as well as other associated payments bringing the total cost to over €95m.
Barca have now accepted that the €40m was actually a salary paid to Neymar and therefore liable for income tax -- and have agreed to pay the €15m tax due on that sum, as well as a €5.5m fine on top.
Former Camp Nou chief Laporta, who was president from 2003-2010 but was defeated by Bartomeu in last summer's election, said on Radio Catalunya that Barca fans must move quickly to stop the pact going through and oust those who were hurting the club for their own personal benefit.
"Barcelonismo must react immediately," Laporta said. "It cannot wait until an AGM is called, which will be when it suits them. There must be a strong reaction to avoid this transaction.
"They want to save their own behinds. There should be mobilisation so that they do not continue at the club. They are using Barca to get themselves acquitted. It is intolerable. The honour of Barca must be defended until the end, but instead they prefer that Barca is condemned for tax fraud."
Asked if he might present a motion of censure, which would lead to a members vote on the continuation of the current board, Laporta said that may be the best to action to take.
"That should be brought forward," he said. "We must study the actions we can take. With this decision, Bartomeu is not fit to lead Barcelona, nor is the board."
Bartomeu defended the deal at a news conference, explaining that although there were still disagreements over the legality of the transfer, it was best now for the club to settle now as a later court ruling might have brought an even greater punishment.
"There are reasons for this, one of which is the uncertainty in the interpretation of the laws, for example," he said. "The other path we could have taken would have been worse for Barca. Now there is a criteria that the €40m [given to Neymar's father's company] was salary.
"There are many interpretations and disparity of opinion. The best thing was to accept the pact and the end the issue. The agreement limits our fine. If we had continued to fight, the fine could have been far greater or not, of course."
While the deal with the tax authorities is already now completed, Barca's board would step down should the club's members reject how the issue had been managed, Bartomeu said.
"The pact is already a fact," he said. "The vote is to back our governance of the club. We will ask the club members that are chosen to attend the assembly if they think that the club has been well governed. We want to stop this 'noise.'
"If the members think we have not done a good job, we will have to go. We [he and Rosell] did not do anything wrong. We cannot single anybody out. Although maybe we should change advisors."
Bartomeu said he hoped that the clarification of the issues included in this settlement [such as the €40m being deemed salary not transfer fee] would help the club's defence in a parallel case brought by third-party investors DIS, who claim that the deal's structure meant they did not receive anything close to their fair share of the full money paid by Barca.
"This will help the other open Neymar case with the investors," he said. "We wanted to end everything. Now we know how to play it."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan