Madrid: A Spanish judge on Friday upheld a tax fraud case against FC Barcelona`s current and ex-chairman over the signing of striker Neymar, taking them a step closer to a possible trial, a judicial source said.
Wrapping up his preliminary investigation, a judge at the National Court in Madrid ruled there were grounds for suspecting tax fraud by Barca`s chairman Josep Maria Bartomeu and his predecessor Sandro Rosell, the source said.
The court, Spain`s top criminal tribunal, upheld the charges against the two and the club as a whole and referred the case to the state prosecution service -- one of the last steps towards a possible trial.
"Judge Pablo Ruz decided to proceed with the case... and rejected the request by Bartomeu and Rosell for the case to be dismissed," the source told AFP.
The judge suspects the club understated the real cost of signing Neymar in order to "surreptitiously evade or reduce the payment to the public treasury".
The club has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement it vowed to appeal against Friday`s decision immediately.
It said its attempts at a defence were being disrupted by the "abnormal swiftness" with which the case was moving forward.
State prosecutors now have 10 days to present formal accusations. The judge will then have to rule whether the two defendants and the club should be sent to trial.
Following months of investigations, Ruz said the two defendants were suspected of three counts of tax fraud worth a total 13 million euros ($13.6 million) relating to the signing of the star striker in 2013.
The club has said it paid 57 million euros overall to sign Neymar from Brazilian club Santos, but the judge suspects the real amount was more than 83 million euros.
The case comes at a sensitive time as Bartomeu is hoping to run for another term when the club elects its next chairman later this year.