Juventus, West Ham Get Players as Uruguay’s ‘Ghost’ Deals Mount

Juventus, AS Roma and Porto agreed to pay a combined 11.1 million euros ($14.6 million) to hire players from Club Deportivo Maldonado, a Uruguayan soccer team for which they never appeared, according to stock-market filings. England’s West Ham took a striker on loan.

South American teams and investors in the players’ transfer rights move the athletes’ registrations through Uruguayan clubs to reduce tax on the trades to as little as 5 percent from 20 percent, said Rodrigo Garcia, a lawyer at Laffer Abogados in Madrid who has advised teams on such deals. Argentina’s tax authority said last month that the arrangements were irregular, and Brazil’s sports minister Aldo Rebelo said soccer ruling body FIFA should outlaw the “ghost” club deals.

At least $70 million of transfer fees went through nine Uruguayan clubs in the same way since 2000, according to Bloomberg News calculations. Uruguay’s soccer federation declined to comment yesterday.

“This has been going on for years without anybody paying much attention,” Garcia said by telephone. “FIFA doesn’t look on it favorably but turns a deaf ear.” The trades would only break FIFA rules if investors or other third parties interfered in player movement, Garcia said.

‘Tax Avoidance’

FIFA is seeking to improve regulation of the $3 billion transfer market. In 2010, the soccer authority made it compulsory to disclose bank details of where transfer money goes via an Internet-based system. Mark Goddard, who oversees the system, said at the time that soccer is “the last area of the commercial world where large amounts of money can be moved without oversight or regulation.”

The soccer authority referred calls about the Uruguay trades to its regulations that say sanctions may be imposed on federations or clubs that submit false data into the so-called Transfer Matching System, or misuse it for illegitimate reasons. Possible penalties in the rules include a competition ban -- FIFA organizes the World Cup and other tournaments -- and demotion to a lower division.

Deportivo Maldonado is a second-division team in Uruguay, where even the top sides are traditionally weaker than Brazilian and Argentine counterparts in continental competition. Trades through Uruguayan clubs amount to “damaging” tax avoidance, with the transfer fees sometimes directed to offshore companies, the Argentina tax agency said in an Aug. 24 statement. The arrangement could be used to launder money, Brazil’s Rebelo said in an Aug. 30 interview.

Porto Signing

In February, FIFA began investigating after Mario Bursztyn, president of Club Atletico Rentistas, said transfer fees involving Brazilian players including “Hulk,” whose real name is Givanildo Vieira de Souza, were redirected through the Uruguayan team to a bank account in the name of Sao Paulo-based player agent Juan Figer. The players concerned never appeared in games for Rentistas.

Bursztyn said in a Feb. 8 interview that Rentistas received a monthly retainer fee under the arrangement.

Figer follows all the rules of his profession, his spokesman Jose Aparecida Miguel said today in an e-mail.

In the Deportivo Maldonado trades, Brazil’s Alex Sandro joined Portuguese champion Porto for 9.6 million euros. Marcelo Estigarribia went to current Italian champion Juventus on loan last season for 500,000 euros and Paraguay teammate Ivan Piris moved to Roma on loan for 700,000 euros this season. West Ham took Brian Montenegro, another Paraguayan, on loan from Maldonado last season without disclosing if there was a fee involved.

Roma Option

Porto spokesman Rui Cerqueira didn’t return a call and e-mail seeking comment on the arrangement. Juventus’s Claudio Albanese declined to comment about its hiring of Estigarribia, who is now on loan at Sampdoria. A West Ham official said the club had no comment.

Roma evaluated Piris while he was playing on loan at Brazil’s Santos and did not feel it “significant” that his federative rights were owned by Maldonado, Roma spokeswoman Catia Augelli said in an e-mail.

Roma has paid 300,000 euros for an option to sign Piris permanently for 4 million euros after this season, according to an Aug. 1 team statement.

Maldonado official Jorge Lopez said he was unable to discuss the trades.

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