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. And finally acquitted. Rosell was imprisoned in May 2017 and just achieved a conditional release after his first appearance in court, during the trial, on 27 February 2019. Then, he was forced to give up his passport and was 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 which were turned down by the court, which considered him a flight risk. Rosell even offered a 35 MEUR as a bail, the second ever biggest bail offered in Spain. If Rosell left the country, all his proprieties would be transferred to the state automatically. But prosecutor Carmen Lamela refused. His case is the longest ever imprisonment without bail due to an alleged money-laundering prosecution.
On 24 April 2019, 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 any of the allegations could not be proven the principle ‘in dubio pro reo’ prevailed (when in doubt, 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 1 July 2010 to 23 January 2014, when he resigned after judge Pablo Ruz ordered the start of a hearing to investigate Rosell for 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 organization in relation to television rights for football matches.
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. But in Spain, almost ten years later, authorities thought Rosell could be involved in a bribe operation.
And even considered Rosell involved in a money-laundering operation involving the transfer of Neymar Jr. from Brazilian club Santos in 2013. Prosecutors said the real amount of the transfer fee was concealed to benefit some of those involved. Neymar and his father denied any wrongdoing. Then Rosell resigned as FC Barcelona president and was detained jointly 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 main Barcelona-based sport newspapers, “Mundo Deportivo” and “Sport”, considered the 2017-2019 imprisonment without bail as a “deep state” revenge to the Catalan independence movement. Also “La Vanguardia” and Madrid-based “ABC” general newspapers suggested this point of view as a feasible explanation.
In fact, Rosell himself considered this frame as the correct one to correctly understand his imprisonment: “If I wouldn’t been FC Barcelona president I wouldn’t 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 the trial begun, senior journalist and political analyst Josep Maria Martí Rigau explained at Rac1 Rosell would have received a phone call from former Culture minister José Ignacio Wert (PP) advising him he could suffer consequences related with 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 Barça first team wore the Catalan flag as a uniform during 2014-15 season. Even in 2012, FC Barcelona aired a public statement against new Spanish Education law promoted by Wert and defending Catalan immersion model in school.
Final acquittance projected some shadows over court judge Carmen Lamela’s procedures. Herself as investigating judge ordered imprisonment without bail to Catalan secessionist leaders and charged as terrorists many cases then overturned by higher authorities (“Lamela, la jueza obsesionada con el terrorismo”).
Rosell’s presumption of innocence was constantly violated during the imprisonment. In fact, Rosell was quite close to be mandatory released from jail, as nobody can be retained in custody without trial over two years. Finally, Rosell was released at the 21th month and finally was acquitted.
His lawyer denounced the case as a “full of irregularities” procedure and claimed against imprisonment without bail during almost 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”.