Eight prominent Romanian football club owners and football agents were handed heavy sentences by an appeals court in Bucharest on charges of tax avoidance, fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors argued that the defendants avoided paying $1.5 million in taxes stemming from 12 transfers of football players to clubs outside Romania, while also embezzling $10 million that should have gone to four clubs.
Three defendants who were handed the lightest sentence, three years imprisonment, are to serve suspended sentences; the other five received effective sentences. The ruling is not final and can be appealed in a higher court, an option that several defendants have said they planned to exercise.
The lawsuit targeted some of the most high-profile people in Romanian football – former football agent Ioan Becali (eight years), football agent Victor Becali and former Dinamo Bucharest shareholder Cristi Borcea (seven years each), Rapid Bucharest majority owner George Copos (five years), former director at Otelul Galati football club Mihai Stoica (four years), Gloria Bistrita football club chairman Jean Padureanu and former Dinamo Bucharest shareholder Gigi Netoiu (three years each, suspended).
Gheorghe Popescu, who has played for Barcelona, Tottenham and Galatasaray in the course of an illustrious career that saw him amass 115 matches in 15 years spent with the national team, was also sentenced to three years, suspended, for his involvement as an agent working for the Becali brothers.
Prosecutors from Romania’s specialised anti-corruption office launched filed the lawsuit in October 2008, but the defendants were exonerated by the first-instance court in April.
In each of the 12 transfers carried out between 1999 and 2005, the prosecutors have argued, the amount that the respective Romanian club received was significantly lower than what was paid by the foreign club.
The highest discrepancies were found in the transfers of Paul Codrea to Genoa in 2001, when the Italian club paid $2.65 million, but Dinamo Bucharest only reported $70 000, and that of Florin Bratu to Galatasaray, which paid $2.75 million, but Rapid Bucharest only registered $100 000 in revenue. Other high-profile transfers investigated by prosecutors included that of Cosmin Contra to Deportivo Alaves in 1999, Viorel Ganea to Stuttgart in 1999, Florin Cernat to Dynamo Kyiv in 2001 and Nicolae Mitea to Ajax Amsterdam in 2003.
(Gheorghe Popescu in 2008. Photo: dan_avraham2000/flickr.com)