Barcelona, Spain: A Spanish judge indicted Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu and his predecessor, Sandro Rosell, for tax fraud and fraudulent administration on Friday in a probe centering on the signing of Neymar.
Investigative magistrate Pablo Ruz accused the club and its management of fabricating a labyrinth of contracts to hide the real cost of signing the Brazil striker in 2013.
The judge said Neymar cost at least 83.3 million euros (then about $108 million), while Barcelona insists it paid 57 million euros (then $74 million). The lower figure would also lower Barcelona's tax burden.
A court statement said its investigation indicated that the alleged web of contracts included seven that were signed between Barcelona and companies owned by Neymar's father and agent, also named Neymar Da Silva Santos.
"These seven contracts were designed with different ends, but taken together they were used to cover up or hide the higher cost of the player's transfer for FCB," the court statement said. "All of them also had the goal of eluding or lowering payments to the Tax Office in a surreptitious manner."
Barcelona denied that "a criminal offense has been committed" and said it would appeal Ruz's decision once it receives formal notification of his ruling.
No trial date has been set.
Bartomeu took over when Rosell resigned in January 2014 after being named a suspect in the case and investigated for misappropriating funds to hide the transfer cost.
This is not the only legal case involving Barcelona.
Star forward Lionel Messi and his father are also being investigated for allegedly defrauding Spain's Tax Office of 4 million euros ($5.3 million) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.
The club has also been banned from making transfers during 2016 after FIFA said it had broken rules regarding the signing of youth players.
In January, Bartomeu relented to pressure following Barcelona's failure to overturn FIFA's ban by calling for early club elections this summer, cutting the board's mandate short by one year. Bartomeu has said he will run for a second term.
Barcelona's legal troubles have not hurt the team's performance so far. Barcelona leads the Spanish league by one point with 12 rounds left. It plays at Eibar on Saturday before hosting Manchester City in the Champions League four days later holding a 2-1 lead in their last-16 tie.
After a subdued first season, the 23-year-old Neymar has improved considerably this campaign and scored 26 goals in 33 games. His 17 goals in the Spanish league make him the competition's third-highest scorer for the season, only trailing Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo with 30 each.
Coach Luis Enrique said he and his players are accustomed to dealing with the possible distraction.
"We focus on our training and sport issues because those are the facts we can control," said Luis Enrique. "The rest is in the hand of the justice system. We will see what their decision is in due time. Unfortunately, we are very much used to controversies, rumors, and news headlines of that nature. But we keep doing our job as it nothing is going on."