Brazilian forward Neymar leaves a Barcelona court after attending the start of his fraud trial
Barcelona (AFP) - With the World Cup barely a month away, Brazilian superstar Neymar went on trial in Spain Monday over alleged irregularities in his transfer to Barcelona nearly a decade ago.
Wearing sunglasses and a dark suit, the 30-year-old waved to the press as he arrived at the Provincial Court of Barcelona with his parents who are also in the dock.
Spanish prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term for Neymar and the payment of a 10-million-euro ($9.7 million) fine.
The high-profile trial is the culmination of a years-long legal saga over his 2013 transfer from the Brazilian club Santos to Barcelona.
He then joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain in a world record 222 million euro ($214 million) transfer in 2017.
Neymar, who came to Barcelona just hours after scoring the winning goal against Marseille in a Ligue 1 match on Sunday night, is one of nine defendants on trial on corruption-related charges, among them his parents and their N&N company, which manages his affairs.
Investigators began probing the transfer after a 2015 complaint filed by DIS, a Brazilian company that owned 40 percent of the player’s sporting rights when he was at Santos.
Barcelona said the transfer cost 57.1 million euros, but prosecutors believe it was at least 83 million euros.
The club said it paid 40 million euros to N&N and 17.1 million to Santos, of which 6.8 million was given to DIS.
But DIS alleges that Neymar, Barcelona and the Brazilian club colluded to mask the true cost of the deal.
Among the other defendants are two former Barca presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and ex-Santos boss Odilio Rodrigues Filho.
- ‘Complicity to defraud’ -
Neymar's fraud trial in Barcelona is due to end on October 31
Neymar’s defence team requested that the player and his parents be allowed to miss the opening hearing of the trial, arguing they needed to rest because they were at the Paris Saint-Germain game on Sunday evening.
The court agreed and just before noon Neymar left the building with his mother. His father in the end decided to stay with the rest of the defendants.
Neymar will testify on either October 21 or October 28, but it is not known if he will have to be physically present. The trial is due to end on October 31.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez will take the stand on Tuesday by videoconference to give his opinion of how a 2011 secret pre-contract deal between Barca and Neymar influenced the market.
“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 DIS lawyer Paulo Nasser on Thursday.
DIS is seeking to recover 35 million euros.
Neymar’s lawyers insist their client is innocent, saying the 40 million euros was a “legal signing bonus which is normal in the football transfer market”.
They have said Spanish authorities lack jurisdiction to hear the case since the transfer involved Brazilian nationals in Brazil.
- Set for World Cup -
Neymar celebrates after opening the scoring during the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Olympique de Marseille on Sunday
Neymar’s abrupt departure for PSG five years ago sparked a string of legal disputes, with Barcelona withholding its contract extension bonus and suing the player for breach of contract, as Neymar countersued.
Both sides eventually reached an ‘amicable’ out-of-court settlement in 2021.
The footballer is having one of his best seasons since he joined PSG.
His goal against Marseille was his ninth league goal of the season and he has seven assists in 11 Ligue 1 matches.
But his relations with France international superstar Kylian Mbappe appear to be strained, with the 23-year-old reportedly demanding PSG sell the Brazilian.
Neymar is also expected to play a key role for Brazil at the World Cup in Qatar, as the South American giants seek to win the trophy for the first time since 2002, and the sixth in total.
He will lead the Selecao into their Group G opener against Serbia on November 24.