Spain: EU to launch probe into Spanish football

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 centered 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.

Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at

http://www.twitter.com/rcasert