The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Spanish foreign minister: EU to launch probe in Spanish football over taxation, state aid
BRUSSELS - Spain's foreign minister said Monday that the European Union will open legal proceedings this week into financial support for Real Madrid, Barcelona and several other top Spanish clubs to see if it meets EU state aid standards.
Jose Manuel Garcia-Margello said his "government is going to give battle until the end to defend Spanish clubs," arguing they are an essential part of "the Spanish brand."
The EU refused to comment on the case, but said Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia would have a news conference on unspecified issues on Wednesday.
A financial probe into several Spanish league clubs could have major repercussions since many of them are in financial difficulties. If such aid is deemed illegal the clubs would have to return the money.
Garcia-Margello said other clubs were Valencia, Hercules, Elche, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna.
If official proceedings are launched this week, it could take several months for arguments and counter-arguments before a full ruling is reached. Even then, parties could challenge it before the EU's highest court in Luxembourg.
Garcia-Margello said the government had already prepared arguments in case Almunia sets the process in motion on Wednesday.
No financial figures were immediately available but the objections the EU was looking into centred on how clubs and local authorities handled fiscal issues such as loan guarantees, land prices and real estate deals.
Barcelona spokesman Toni Freixa said the probe was baseless and that the Spanish champion had "never received any type of public aid."
The Spanish league has said in a statement that it "wants to publicly show its unconditional and absolute support for the clubs and affiliated managing institutions in general and those under investigation in particular."
Garcia-Margello said neither the Spanish government nor the clubs had done anything wrong.
"There is nothing that is irregular in any of the cases mentioned," he said.
Joseph Wilson contributed to this report from Barcelona.
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