EU to probe seven Spanish football clubs

The European Commission will on Wednesday launch a formal investigation into seven Spanish football clubs, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, after complaints they accepted illegal state aid, Spain’s foreign minister said.

The EU’s executive declined to comment when contacted by AFP on Monday.

Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia announced in April that the complaints concerned Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna (Pamplona), Valencia, Hercules (Alicante) and Elche.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told a press briefing after talks with EU colleagues on Monday the government in Madrid had been informed of a comprehensive inquiry.

It would be the first step to a procedure for violation of EU rules and could lead to sanctions if these rules were in fact broken.

Madrid appeared concerned about the consequences of the Brussels decision and Garcia-Margallo said the government would “defend the clubs to the end”.

“As far as I know there was nothing illegal,” said the minister. “But I am concerned about the prejudice that the clubs may suffer.”

The focus of the investigation is on whether the tax rate imposed on Real Madrid, the FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna complies with European law.

Brussels is also looking into loans granted by the Valencian Community to Valencia, Hercules and Elche.

And Almunia wants the investigation to clarify whether or not Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao real estate operations were proper, AFP reports.

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