Barcelona link Neymar accusations to Catalan independence

Madrid: Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has claimed the accusations against the club for tax evasion in the signing of Brazilian star Neymar are linked to their support of Catalan independence from Spain. Bartomeu was charged with tax fraud by a Spanish judge on Tuesday, suspected of evading 2.85 million euros ($3.26 million) in a payment made to Neymar last year.

Neymar. Pic/AFP 

On Monday, the club and former president Sandro Rosell, who resigned over the affair just over a year ago, were also accused of avoiding over 12 million euros in tax for declaring an incorrect transfer fee for the 22-year-old back in 2013. "I am convinced that there are certain powers of the state who didn't like the fact that he came to Barcelona, a Catalan club, and one that has participated in acts of support for Catalan independence," Bartomeu told regional television station 8tv.

A historic symbol of Catalan nationalism, in recent years Barcelona offered their Camp Nou stadium to host a concert in support of independence and last season wore the the red and yellow colours of the Catalan flag on their away kit. They also wore the same kit this season at home to Athletic Bilbao in September to mark the 300th anniversary of the loss of Catalan sovereignty.

Meanwhile, a number of the club's directors and players have shown their support for the independence movement. "They haven't liked this and they have turned against us. We are paying a political price," added Bartomeu. "Barcelona haven't done anything wrong." Bartomeu also insinuated that Neymar's decision to join the four-time European champions instead of rivals Real Madrid has influenced the judicial proceedings.

"All this began with the actions of someone who didn't want him to come to Barca. "Neymar's father has already said that he had an offer from Real Madrid that was even higher than that from Barcelona and they haven't liked this." The controversy over the signing began with a complaint by one of the club's members against Rosell for misappropriation of funds.

He then resigned in January 2014 when it was decided that case would go to court. In his testimony before a judge on in July of 2004, Rosell insisted that Neymar cost the club 57 million euros, 17 of which went to his former club Santos and 40 million paid to N&N, a company owned by the player's father. However, the tax authorities believe the figure amounted to over 82 million euros in a number of different contracts.

A former vice-president, Bartomeu succeeded Rosell following his resignation, but has called presidential elections for the end of this season due to rising pressure on his board. Despite the latest accusations, though, Bartomeu still intends to stand as a candidate for election. "This doesn't change anything. I will continue to present myself at the elections come the end of the season."

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