MADRID – Judges in Spain’s National Court ruled on Wednesday that former Barcelona soccer club president Sandro Rosell, who had spent 643 days in pretrial detention on suspicion of having been involved in laundering close to 20 million euros ($22 million) and of illegally pocketing at least 6.5 million euros, be released without bail.
Rosell has been in custody after being accused of misappropriating funds linked to the sale of television rights of Brazil matches and the setting up of friendly matches featuring the Brazilian international squad as well as from a sponsorship contract between Nike and Brazil. He is also charged with leading a criminal organization.
“A completely unjust situation of 21 months in custody for @sandrorosell and Joan Besoli has come to an end,” said current Barcelona President, Josep Maria Bartomeu. “Free and surrounded by their friends and family, they will better be able to defend their innocence,” he added on his official Twitter account.
The judges, who were responding to a freedom request by the defense lawyers, said in a court statement that both Rosell and Besoli, one of his co-defendants, could carry on attending the trial without having to spend each night in Madrid’s Soto del Real jail until a final verdict was arrived at.
The judges said they had taken into account that Rosell had already spent close to two years in preventive custody but ruled that the defendants had to fix their places of residence with the authorities, hand over their passports and appear before a court near their abode on the first and third Monday of each month.
The prosecution had asked that Rosell be sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence, plus the payment of a fine of nearly 60 million euros ($68 million) after arguing that the defendants had been part of a criminal organization led by the former club president that had, “since at least 2006, formed a stable structure, reinforced by bonds of friendship and kinship, dedicated to large-scale money laundering.”
The gang had allegedly helped launder money linked to commissions from 24 international matches played by the Brazil squad when Ricardo Teixeira was in charge of the Brazilian Soccer Federation, the prosecutions said.
Rosell, who was in the dock alongside his wife, Marta Pineda, and four other defendants, had strenuously denied breaking the law.
Pineda faces seven years in prison and the other members of the alleged criminal gang are Andorran lawyer Besoli who faces 10 years, Lebanese citizen Shahe Ohanneissian who faces seven 7 years, while alleged frontmen Pedro Andres Ramos and Josep Colomer face six to eight years in prison if found guilty.
Rosell, who was president of Barcelona from 2010-14, has been charged with misappropriating funds derived from the sale of television rights for exhibition matches featuring the Brazil national team as well as from a sponsorship contract between Nike and Brazil’s squad.
Teixeira, who took over from Octavio Pinto Guimarães as head of Brazil’s federation, held the post from 1989 to 2012 and has been under investigation in Brazil, the US, Switzerland and Andorra for his alleged part in draining off 14.97 million euros in illegal commissions from broadcast rights of 24 Brazil friendlies and 5 million from a sponsorship deal with Nike.
Rosell, alongside current Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu, is also under investigation in a separate case for alleged fraud in the signing of soccer star Neymar from Fondo DIS, which owned 40 percent of the player’s rights.