F.C. Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell imprisoned for 643 days, finally acquited
Sports businessman and former FC Barcelona football club president Sandro Rosell was imprisoned without bail for 643 days, accused of money laundering offenses, before finally being acquitted. Rosell was imprisoned in May 2017, yet only achieved a conditional release after his first appearance in court, during the trial, on 27th February 2019. He was subsequently forced to give up his passport and was placed under strict orders not to leave Spain.
While maintaining his innocence, Rosell spent almost two years in custody. Despite appealing for conditional bail on 10 occasions, all of these were turned down by the court, which considered him a flight risk. Rosell even offered a 35 MEUR as bail, the second largest bail ever offered in Spain. If Rosell left the country, all his proprieties would be transferred to the state automatically, however prosecutor Carmen Lamela still refused to grant him bail. His case is the longest ever imprisonment without bail within an alleged money-laundering prosecution.
On 24th April 2019, the Spanish Audiencia Nacional court acquitted him of money laundering. Prosecutors wanted Rosell to be jailed for six years, but Audiencia Nacional determined they could not prove the allegations. As not one of the allegations could be proven, the principle ‘in dubio pro reo’ prevailed (when in doubt, rule in favor of the accused). The court found that the evidence provided in court hadn’t proven the charges beyond reasonable doubt.
Rosell was the president of the FC Barcelona football club from 1st July 2010 to 23rd January 2014, when he resigned after judge Pablo Ruz ordered the start of a hearing to investigate Rosell for an alleged misappropriation of funds over the signing of Brazil forward Neymar.
Rosell was accused, alongside his wife and four others, of misappropriating money from the sale of TV rights for friendly matches involving Brazil’s national team. According to the prosecutor Carmen Lamela, Rosell helped launder some 20 million euros that came from commissions for more than 20 matches played by the Brazil national team, in a deal with the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira. By doing so, he was accused of belonging to a criminal organisation.
In the 1990s, Rosell negotiated several deals with Teixeira involving Brazil’s national team. Several years later, Rosell was formally accused by Brazilian authorities of using one of his companies to illegally benefit from a friendly between Brazil and Portugal between 2006 and 2008. Rosell was cleared of any wrongdoing at the time. However, in Spain – almost ten years later – authorities thought Rosell could be involved in a bribe operation and even considered Rosell to be involved in a money-laundering operation involving the transfer of Neymar Jr. from Brazilian club Santos in 2013. Prosecutors argued that the real amount of the transfer fee was concealed to benefit some of those involved. Neymar and his father denied any wrongdoing. Subsequently, Rosell resigned as FC Barcelona president and was detained – along with his wife – at their home in Barcelona, during one of the police raids.
During his resignation speech, Rosell said: “For some time my family and myself have suffered threats and attacks in silence. These threats and attacks have made me wonder if being president means having to jeopardise my family. In recent days an unfair and reckless accusation of misappropriation has resulted in a lawsuit against me in the Audiencia Nacional. From the beginning, I have said that the signing of Neymar Jr has been correct and his signing has caused despair and envy in some of our adversaries.”
Both of the main Barcelona-based sport newspapers, “Mundo Deportivo” and “Sport”, considered the 2017-2019 imprisonment without bail as a “deep state” revenge against the Catalan independence movement. Also, “La Vanguardia” and Madrid-based “ABC” general newspapers, endorsed this point of view as a feasible explanation.
In fact, Rosell himself considered this theory to be a correct one in understanding the reasons for his imprisonment: “If I wouldn’t been FC Barcelona president I wouldn’t have been imprisoned. I am not imprisoned for being president of FC Barcelona, but if I had not been I would not be here. In what other case the Public Prosecutor devoted itself to investigating facts produced 12 years ago in another country (Brazil), without there being a crime and in which the private parties involved do not claim anything? It is surreal”.
The day on which the trial begun, senior journalist and political analyst Josep Maria Martí Rigau explained at Rac1 that Rosell had received a phone call from former Culture minister José Ignacio Wert (PP), advising him that he could suffer consequences related to his decisions as FC Barcelona president.
Under Rosell’s presidency, many secessionist demonstrations (2013 Concert per la Llibertat, 2013 Via Catalana, 17’14’’ secession claims…) were held at the Camp Nou stadium, and the Barça first team wore the Catalan flag as one of their away kits during the 2014-15 season. In 2012, FC Barcelona even aired a public statement against a new Spanish Education law promoted by Wert and defended the Catalan immersion model in schools.
Rosell’s eventual acquittance projected some shadows over judge Carmen Lamela’s procedures within court. As an investigating judge, she has ordered the imprisonment without bail of several Catalan secessionist leaders and charged many with terrorist offences, before the cases were later overturned by higher authorities (“Lamela, la jueza obsesionada con el terrorismo”).
Rosell’s presumption of innocence was constantly violated during his imprisonment. In fact, Rosell was quite close to mandatory release from jail, as nobody can be retained in custody without trial for over two years. Finally, Rosell was released in the 21th month and was finally acquitted.
His lawyer denounced the case as one “full of irregularities” in its procedure and argued against his imprisonment without bail, during those two years. Himself said motivations to maintain his client in jail “go beyond judicial matters”.
FC Barcelona’s Vice President Jordi Cardoner said he was furious “because in a democratic state the judiciary could not be mistaken the way it has been mistaken. It will be necessary to clarify what had happened to know if situations like these are usual or not”.