BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The president of Spanish champion Barcelona resigned on Thursday to fight criminal accusations he misappropriated funds from the signing of Brazil forward Neymar.
Sandro Rosell is facing a lengthy legal battle after a judge in Madrid ruled on Wednesday he will hear a lawsuit that alleges the real cost of Neymar's transfer from Santos last year was hidden.
"I don't want unfair attacks to negatively affect (the) 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 that the deal to bring Neymar to Barcelona was legal.
Neymar, who is the poster boy of Brazil's team going into the World Cup on home soil in June, joined for 57 million euros (then $74 million) in June, according to Rosell.
The legal action, which was 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 of the move. 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 his 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 he was quitting after more than two hours of deliberations.
The transfer controversy is a blot on the reputation of a Catalan football institution that has long prided itself on being "more than a club" and is owned by its more than 160,000 members, who elect a president and executive board.
And Barcelona, while top of the Spanish league, enters a period of uncertainty as it seeks to retain its domestic title and win the Champions League for the first time since 2011.
Rosell, who was elected in 2010, said vice president Josep Bartomeu will take his place and complete the presidential term that expires in 2016.