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Tax trial urged for Barcelona FC

Spain's prosecutor has called on the National Court to open a trial against Barcelona football club for alleged tax evasion, including in the signing of Brazil striker Neymar.

In a statement, the prosecutor called for jail terms of more than two years for the club's current president Josep Bartomeu, and more than seven years for his predecessor, Alexandre "Sandro" Rosell, as well as the imposition of large fines.

The prosecutor called for club itself to be fined 22.2 million euro (£16 million) for alleged false accounting in the tax returns for 2011, 2013 and 2014.

On March 13, investigating judge Pablo Ruz had named Bartomeu and Rosell in a tax fraud and fraudulent administration probe into the 2013 signing of the Brazilian star.

The judge alleged the club and its management fabricated a labyrinth of contracts to conceal the real cost of the signing.

At the time, Mr Ruz set a deadline of 10 days for the prosecutor to submit an indictment setting out the penalties it sought for the defendants.

The prosecutor has agreed with Mr Ruz that Barcelona paid at least 84 million euro (then some £72 million) for Neymar, and that by presenting a lower figure the club allegedly reduced its tax burden in a fraudulent manner.

The club insists the cost was 57 million euro (then £49 million).

Barcelona has denied any wrongdoing and, shortly after hearing of Mr Ruz's decision, said it would appeal.

Bartomeu took over when Rosell resigned in January 2014 when he was named a suspect in the case and investigated for misappropriating funds to hide the transfer cost.

But the prosecutor said both Bartomeu and Rosell's signatures appear on contracts linked to Neymar's signing and that they must have been equally aware of the implications.

Mr Ruz has not set a trial date.

This is the latest twist in a series of legal cases engulfing Barcelona.

Star forward Lionel Messi and his father are also being investigated for allegedly defrauding Spain's Tax Office of four million euro (£3.5 million) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.

The club has been banned from making transfers during 2016 after football governing body Fifa said it had broken rules regarding the signing of youth players.

However, Barcelona's legal troubles have not hurt the team's performance so far.

Barcelona lead the Spanish top league by four points with 10 matches to go, and are still vying for Champions League and Copa del Rey silverware.

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