Sports equipment maker Nike and French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain faced trial in Paris on Monday on charges of hiding payments to attract top players, including Nicolas Anelka and Gabriel Heinze.
Two former presidents of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), one of France’s richest clubs with famous fans such as President Nicolas Sarkozy, and several agents are also on trial over the alleged attempt to avoid French employment taxes.
Prosecutors say agents, sponsors and club officials partly hid payments for some 20 transfers from 1998 to 2005, including those of Heinze, who joined PSG from Spanish club Valladolid in 2001, and Anelka, who came from Real Madrid in 2000.
Nike is accused of helping to hide payments through sponsorship contracts with players such as Brazil’s Ronaldinho, sometimes with the use of coupons and house purchases in the names of the Directors.
The players themselves are not among the accused. If found guilty, the accused could be asked to pay back millions of euros that were allegedly withheld from tax and social security authorities, as the actual payments were larger than the ones declared.
A lawyer for the group said there was nothing unusual in the deals.
“Do you think the fact that Ronaldinho wears Nike boots is no advantage for Nike? Isn’t it normal to pay for that?” lawyer Olivier Metzner said. “That happens in every country of the world. We did it in Paris, like everywhere else and we only have problems in Paris.”
French magistrates stumbled over the suspect payments some years ago after investigating salary of one player. They are not accusing any of the defendants of personal enrichment.