SYDNEY: A month before the World Cup begins in Qatar, Brazilian superstar Neymar goes on trial in Spain over alleged irregularities in his transfer to Barcelona nearly a decade ago. The trial opens in Barcelona on Monday following a years-long legal saga over his 2013 transfer from the Brazilian club Santos, with the 30-year-old star in the dock as well as his parents, whose company manages his affairs.
All three are facing charges of business corruption.
Investigators began probing the transaction 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 cost at least 83 million euros.
The club said it paid 40 million euros to N&N, a company owned by the Neymar family, 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.
A total of nine defendants are on trial on corruption-related charges, among them two former Barca presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and ex-Santos boss Odilio Rodrigues Filho.
Rosell and Barcelona FC are facing charges of fraud and corruption, while Filho and Santos are accused of fraud.
If convicted, the Paris Saint-Germain forward could face two years in jail and a 10-million-euro (USD 9.7 million) fine.
The trial is to run until October 31, barely three weeks before the World Cup begins on November 20, with Neymar due to lead Brazil into their Group G opener against Serbia four days later.
- 'Complicity to defraud' -
Neymar is expected in court when the trial opens, although his presence has not been officially confirmed, and will testify on either October 21 or October 28.
On day two, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez will take the stand to explain how a 2011 secret pre-contract deal between Barca and Neymar influenced the market.
Alongside the prosecution's case, DIS -- a sports investment firm owned by Brazilian supermarket chain Sonda -- has filed its own suit, alleging collusion to defraud it out of its real share of the deal.
"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 its lawyer Paulo Nasser on Thursday.
It also claims financial harm from the pre-contract agreement between Neymar and Barca which impeded other clubs from making offers for the player, affecting the value of the transfer fee.
It is seeking to recover 35 million euros.
- A complicated history -
The 2013 transfer also caught the attention of the Spanish authorities who opened a tax fraud investigation into Barcelona. In 2016, they reached a deal with the club agreeing to pay a 5.5-million-euro fine to avoid going to trial.
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".
But Neymar's complicated history with Barca did not end there, with the star abruptly leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.
That 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.
Neymar is having one of his best seasons for PSG since he joined the club following a world record 222-million-euro transfer in 2017.
He has scored eight goals and contributed seven assists in 10 matches in Ligue 1.
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.