Just a month before the start of the World Cup, Brazilian superstar Neymar was expected to testify in a Spanish court Tuesday at his trial over alleged irregularities in his transfer to Barcelona nearly a decade ago.
Neymar had been set to testify on either October 21 or 28 but the judge agreed to bring forward his hearing to avoid a clash with his football commitments.
Wearing sunglasses and a dark suit, the 30-year-old arrived at the Provincial Court of Barcelona for the start of the trial Monday with his parents who are also in the dock.
Neymar spent two hours at the court before he was excused by the judge for the rest of the day’s hearing after his lawyers argued he needed to rest after playing Sunday night.
The player scored the only goal of the Ligue 1 match against Marseille.
“Da Silva Santos Junior scored a goal when I was already in bed,” admitted court president Jose Manuel del Amo.
The high-profile trial is the culmination of a years-long legal saga over Neymar’s 2013 transfer from the Brazilian club Santos to Barcelona.
He then joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain in a world record 222 million euro transfer in 2017.
Spanish prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term for Neymar and the payment of a 10-million-euro ($9.7 million) fine.
He is one of nine defendants on trial on corruption-related charges, among them his parents and their N&N company, which manages his affairs.
-‘Complicity to defraud’ –
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.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is also set to 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.
The trial is due to end on October 31.
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 on Sunday 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 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.