Por­tuguese soccer ex­ec­u­tive claims bribery, fraud in mar­ket


At first glance Por­tuguese soccer has never been health­ier: The na­tional team is the cham­pion of Europe, star player Cris­tiano Ron­aldo has been voted the world’s best, and in­ter­na­tional clubs are shelling out mil­lions for tal­ent pro­duced in the coun­try.

But, for Bruno de Car­valho, pres­i­dent of 18-time champ Sport­ing Clube de Por­tu­gal, those suc­cesses are un­der­mined by a dark un­der­belly of bribery and cor­rup­tion that can only be tack­led by out­side in­ter­ven­tion and reg­u­la­tion.

“For four years I’m here say­ing the gov­ern­ment needs to put a hand on this,” de Car­valho, an out­spo­ken voice since his elec­tion to of­fice in 2013, said in an in­ter­view at Sport­ing’s Jose Al­valade sta­dium in Lis­bon. “The gov­ern­ment needs to say: ‘Enough.’”

Por­tu­gal’s top three clubs com­pete for pop­u­lar­ity in the na­tion of 10 mil­lion peo­ple, and it’s not un­com­mon for their lead­ers to en­gage in pub­lic spats. This month, Ben­fica, Por­tu­gal’s big­gest club and Sport­ing’s arch ri­val, was ac­cused of in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact with ref­er­ees fol­low­ing a leak of emails to lo­cal me­dia. That came about a decade af­ter a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that ended with Pinto da Costa — long­stand­ing pres­i­dent of 2004 Euro­pean Cup winner Porto — be­ing given a two-year sus­pended soccer ban in a non-crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion for at­tempted bribery.

Ben­fica de­nies al­le­ga­tions of act­ing im­prop­erly. Por­tu­gal’s Publico news­pa­per re­ported pub­lic pros­e­cu­tors are look­ing into the mat­ter.

Sit­ting at a wooden desk that’s over­looked by over­sized pho­tos of Ron­aldo and Luis Figo, who like Ron­aldo was a for­mer Sport­ing player who went on to be­come a soccer icon with clubs in­clud­ing Real Madrid, de Car­valho raised his voice in frus­tra­tion as he de­scribed how soccer’s $5-bil­lion global trad­ing mar­ket is open to fraud, with un­eth­i­cal and il­le­gal be­hav­iour par­tic­u­larly com­mon in Por­tu­gal.

“It’s very easy to steal money from a club,” he said, be­fore go­ing on to de­scribe the process of il­licit pay­ments be­ing made. “You don’t even need to open a bank ac­count, it’s very easy.”

De Car­valho’s com­ments come a year af­ter Joao Vale e Azevedo, a for­mer Ben­fica pres­i­dent, was re­leased from jail af­ter serv­ing time for crimes in­clud­ing the em­bez­zle­ment of funds from the trans­fer of play­ers. Sep­a­rately, au­thor­i­ties in Spain, France and the U.K. are in­ves­ti­gat­ing player trans­fers and con­tracts fol­low­ing a mas­sive leak of doc­u­ments that pro­vided a rare glimpse soccer fi­nance.

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