Spanish prosecutors drop criminal charges against Neymar

Neymar, Brazil's star forward, no longer faces the possibility of being sent to prison after Spanish prosecutors on Friday (Oct 28) dropped their charges of fraud and corruption against the soccer player, his parents and several top soccer executives involved in his 2013 transfer to Barcelona.

The resolution of Neymar's case came after two weeks of testimony in a fraud trial in which prosecutors had initially sought a two-year prison term for Neymar, who will lead Brazil's attack at the World Cup in Qatar next month, and longer sentences for his parents.

Just as the two-week trial was coming to a close, however, a prosecutor told the judge hearing the case in Barcelona that in view of the information presented to the court there was not enough evidence that a crime had been committed.

The state's withdrawal, though, may not be the end of the legal drama: The prosecutor suggested that DIS, a Brazilian sports investment company that jointly brought the case, could continue to pursue its claim for millions of dollars in damages in civil court.

Neymar's move to Barcelona from the Brazilian club Santos nearly a decade ago remains one of the most notorious transfers in soccer history. It was only after the transfer was completed when it emerged that his family had reached a secret agreement with the Spanish club months earlier that guaranteed Neymar and his parents 40 million euros (S$56.4 million) in a private arrangement.

DIS, owned by the founders of a supermarket chain, at the time held a 40 per cent stake in Neymar's transfer rights, a share that saw the firm receive 6.8 million euros of the official fee Barcelona eventually agreed to pay Santos. That payday, DIS' lawyers contend, would have been far higher had Neymar and Barcelona not signed the secret precontract.

The trial, which opened only weeks before Brazil's opening game at the World Cup, brought unwanted attention to Neymar before what could be his last chance to win soccer's biggest prize. Brazil's team is among the favourites going into the tournament, and his representatives have described the case as a needless distraction. Neymar's legal team had argued for months that the Spanish case was without merit because private corruption is not a crime in Brazil, where the transfer had taken place.

Neymar told the court this month that he had done nothing illegal, and that he had only signed documents presented to him by his father, who manages his career.

"My father has always been in charge," Neymar said in court. "I sign what he tells me to."

Even after all these years Neymar's move to Barcelona remains a dark chapter in soccer's frequently opaque US$7 billion player trading industry. The details that have emerged in the years since it took place have shed light on how an international cast of investors, agents and other intermediaries profits from the biggest deals, but also how secret side deals - often designed to deliver returns to investors or hide millions of dollars from tax authorities - have become commonplace.

The case's denouement this week came after the prosecutor told the court, according to Spanish news media reports, that although no violations of Spain's penal code had been proved, there were indications that other rules, including Brazil's civil code and Fifa (International Federation of Association Football) regulations, may have been breached. The prosecutors said, though, that the proper forum for the claims made by DIS was civil court.

Lawyers for the defendants, which as well as Neymar and his family include former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, are now expected to seek damages and costs from DIS, which will continue pursuing its own damages claim. NYTIMES

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