BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The president of Spanish champion Barcelona resigned on Thursday to fight criminal accusations he misappropriated funds from the signing of Brazilian forward Neymar.
Sandro Rosell is facing a legal battle after a judge in Madrid ruled Wednesday he will hear a lawsuit alleging the real cost of Neymar's transfer from Santos last year was hidden. "I don't want unfair attacks to negatively affect management or the image of the club. This is why I think my time here has come to an end," Rosell said, while insisting for a second time this week the deal to bring Neymar to Barcelona was legal.
Neymar, the top star on Brazil's World Cup team, was acquired in June for 57 million euros (then $74 million), according to Rosell. The legal case claims that the real cost of Neymar's transfer was closer to 95 million euros ($129 million).
The legal action brought by club member Jordi Cases alleges the real cost of Neymar's transfer was closer to 95 million euros ($129 million) and that false contracts hid the real value. The criminal offense of misappropriation of funds is punishable by up to six years in prison.
The 49-year-old Rosell, a former Nike executive, said confidentiality agreements prevented Barcelona from revealing the exact amount received by Santos and the three companies — DIS, TEISA and N&N — who owned shares of Neymar's rights. The lawsuit does not accuse Rosell of taking money from the deal.
The case prompted Barcelona's board to call an emergency meeting, and Rosell announced after more than two hours of deliberations that he was quitting Barcelona, a Catalan institution whose motto is "more than a club," is owned by its more than 160,000 members, who elect a president and executive board.
Rosell, elected in 2010, said vice president Josep Bartomeu will take his place and complete the presidential term that expires in 2016. Under three full seasons of Rosell's presidency, Barcelona maintained its winning run started under Joan Laporta adding two Spanish league trophies and titles in the 2011 Champions League and 2012 Copa del Rey.
"Through this period of success, my family and I have suffered attacks that have made me wonder if being president means putting my family at risk an in anguish," Rosell said. As he resigned, Rosell trumpeted his role in ensuring "the best players in the world wear the Barcelona jersey." Rosell oversaw the signing of Neymar, Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba and Alex Song to further strengthen a team built around star forward Lionel Messi.
Rosell steered Barcelona through uncertainty last season when treatment for throat cancer kept coach Tito Vilanova away for several months. Vilanova had to step down at the end of last season through ill health and Gerardo Martino was brought in to take charge.
But while helping to establish Barcelona as Europe's most successful team, Rosell also upset some members by putting paid ads on the front of Barca's jerseys for the first time by striking deals with Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways.
Last March, Rosell was also accused in Brazil of illegally benefiting from an exhibition game organized by his marketing company in 2008. Barcelona leads the Spanish league on goal difference over Atletico Madrid and hopes to regain the Champions League title it last won in 2011.