Spanish court acquits soccer star Neymar in fraud trial

Former FC Barcelona player Neymar who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain, centre, arrives at a court in Barcelona, Spain, Monday Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A Spanish court on Tuesday acquitted soccer star Neymar and his fellow defendants in a fraud and corruption trial related to the Brazilian’s 2013 transfer from Santos to Barcelona.

Brazilian company DIS had accused Neymar, his father, and the former presidents of Santos and Barcelona of having intentionally hidden the cost of his transfer to avoid paying DIS what it was due as the partial holder of his player rights.

However, the court said in a statement that “it has not been proven that there was a false contract or that DIS was intended to be harmed.”

The verdict is not a surprise following the decision by Spanish state prosecutors to drop all charges during the trial. That left only the lawyers of DIS to continue arguing their case.

DIS had initially sought a five-year prison sentence for the 30-year-old Neymar halved that request following the withdrawal of the state prosecutors.

The legal victory for Neymar comes days after he and his Brazil team were eliminated from the World Cup by Croatia on penalties in the quarterfinals.

The other defendants declared innocent were Neymar’s father, who goes by the same name, his mother, former Santos president Odilio Rodrigues and former Barcelona executives Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu.

DIS said that it plans to appeal the decision.

“DIS regrets that an opportunity has been lost to put a stop to certain corrupt practices in the world of football that are inconceivable in other activities,” DIS said in a statement.

DIS, which owns a chain of supermarkets in Brazil, said it acquired rights in 2009 to receive 40% of a future Neymar transfer when it paid the player’s family 5 million Brazilian reals (then $2 million). DIS claimed it only received its due percentage from the 17 million euros that Barcelona and Santos initially announced as the transfer fee between the clubs, while the real cost was about 82 million euros.

The court said that DIS had received 6.8 million euros, corresponding to 40% of the 17 million Barcelona officially paid Santos for the transfer. But it said that all the other monies that Barcelona paid to Neymar’s family business, N&N, as well as to Santos in separate contracts, were legal. Those included a 40-million-euro payment that Rosell, then Barcelona’s president, negotiated with Neymar’s father in 2011 to ensure he would later join Barcelona, as well as separate deals between the Spanish club and Santos for a friendly match and the right to first refusal for other Brazilian players.

Neymar joined Barcelona from Brazilian club Santos at the age of 21 amid massive fanfare, when he was already hailed as one of the world’s top players. He helped the Spanish giant win a Champions League title and other trophies before he forced a move to current club Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

Neymar’s move from Santos also got Barcelona in trouble with Spain’s tax office. In 2016, Barcelona paid a fine of 5.5 million euros to settle a separate case brought by authorities. In that settlement, the club acknowledged it had made “an error in the fiscal planning of the player’s transfer.”