Real Madrid May Face EU Probe Amid Soccer Aid Complaints

Real Madrid, the world’s biggest soccer team by sales, risks a European Union demand to repay state aid after officials said they are checking complaints over possible illegal subsidies.

Regulators are looking into allegations that Real Madrid along with other teams across the 27-nation bloc benefited from aid banned under EU competition rules, Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the European Commission, said today. The same agency last month opened an in-depth probe into public funding for five Dutch clubs, including PSV Eindhoven.

“Real Madrid is one of the clubs we are looking at,” he told reporters. “At this stage, we are just analyzing the information that we have.” The Brussels-based commission hasn’t yet decided to open a formal investigation, he said.

Real Madrid, the record nine-time European champion, spent a world record 80 million pounds ($121 million) to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009. The EU’s antitrust authority didn’t take any action after starting an investigation in 2004 into whether Real Madrid received state aid over the sale of its training ground to municipal authorities. Revenue from the sale in 2001 helped Real bankroll signings including Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham, who in turn boosted advertising revenue.

Land Deal

The Independent newspaper reported earlier that the EU is examining how the club acquired land from city authorities for development next to its stadium.

In September 2011, Real Madrid President Florentino Perez said the club agreed with the city hall to exchange land in the suburb of Las Tablas for a public area in the city’s tree-lined main avenue, with the aim of building a shopping center next to its stadium.

Real Madrid spokeswoman Marta Santisteban said the club had no immediate comment. Rafael Gonzalez, a spokesman for Madrid’s city hall, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Aside from examining the complaints “relating to different football clubs in different member states, including Spain,” Colombani said the commission is also “looking at the situation more generally of fiscal and social debt in certain clubs.”

The commission checks whether government help for companies may distort competition in the EU.

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