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Investors buying stakes in the transfer rights of soccer players such as Colombia’s Radamel Falcao are moving returns through Dutch companies in an effort to cut their tax payments to as little as 5 percent.
The transactions show that investors are becoming increasingly sophisticated in finding profits in soccer’s $3 billion transfer market, said Gregor Reiter, chief financial officer at The Hague, Netherlands-based European Football Agents Association, a group for player representatives. According to Koos de Bruijn, coordinator of Tax Justice Netherlands, the transactions are draining public money abroad by paying “very small” amounts of tax in the Netherlands.
“There is really no justification for this,” De Bruijn said by telephone from Utrecht. The Netherlands is a “treaty haven” because of tax-reducing agreements it has with offshore jurisdictions, De Bruijn added.
Soccer ruling body FIFA allows investors to buy shares in the future fees of a player from teams provided they don’t influence trading. The transactions began in South America in the 1990s with player agents effectively acquiring shares in their clients’ careers.
The English Premier League banned so-called third-party ownership after the activity obstructed Argentine striker Carlos Tevez’s 2007 move to Manchester United. The practice is spreading to southern Europe as cash-strapped teams seek financing. The European Commission is examining the issue to check it doesn’t interfere with competitions, commission officials said.
The commission is paying Brussels-based consultancy KEA European Affairs to report on the practice in a study on soccer transfers scheduled for next month.
Porto acquired Falcao for 3.9 million euros ($5.1 million) from River Plate of Argentina in 2009, and traded him to Atletico Madrid for 40 million euros last year. As part of his move to the Spanish club, 1.8 million euros -- about 5 percent of the fee -- went to Dutch financial holding company Natland Financieringsmaatschappij BV, according to a Porto earnings report published Oct. 18.
The company’s parent, Hitchin, England-based Wandsworth Services LLP, is also affiliated with Broward Capital Inc. in the British Virgin Islands. A letter e-mailed to representatives of Wandsworth Services asking for comment on the arrangement wasn’t immediately answered.
Falcao has 10 goals in eight league games for Atletico Madrid this season and got three against European champion Chelsea in the European Super Cup. Atletico owns all of the 26- year-old’s transfer rights, and has used his trading value as a guarantee for a loan from an investment fund, Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil said in an e-mail. The transfermarkt.com website currently puts Falcao’s value at 50 million euros.
The Netherlands’ Finance Ministry said in an e-mail it has many treaties that allow investors to reduce tax on dividends at source to between zero and 10 percent. The treaties comply with all international standards and require the exchange of information to enable “anti-abuse” measures, the e-mail said.
“It is therefore in our view unfair and incorrect to refer to the Netherlands as a ‘tax haven’ or a ‘treaty haven,”’ the ministry said.
The U.K. also offers foreign investors the chance to receive tax exemptions on dividends -- paying “little or no withholding taxes” -- before routing receipts to offshore territories, according to David Burke, a tax partner with Mason Hayes & Curran in Dublin.
“It’s a well-trodden path” in the Netherlands and U.K., Burke said by phone.
In 2009, Porto paid Natland Financieringsmaatschappij 1.5 million euros for 60 percent of the rights to Mario Bolatti. The Argentine midfielder was traded to Italy’s Fiorentina six months later, with Porto earning 1.4 million euros for 20 percent of the rights, according to Porto.
A sale of their stake at that price would have given the Dutch company a 180 percent return, according to Bloomberg News calculations. Porto spokesman Rui Cerqueira didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the agreements involving Falcao and Bolatti.
The global market for such deals is growing and could be worth more than $500 million, according to Julio Senn, a partner at Madrid-based firm Senn, Ferrero, Asociados Sports & Entertainment SLP.
Last year, AS Roma said it would pay Amsterdam-based holding company Orel BV 1.6 million euros as part of forward Erik Lamela’s 12 million-euro transfer from Argentina’s River Plate. It also agreed to pay agent Martijn Odems 3.2 million euros under the accord.
Roma officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the 4.8 million euros paid to third parties. Odems, who became a player agent six weeks earlier according to the Dutch soccer federation, and works at the same address as Orel, declined to comment.
FIFA should monitor such transactions “very, very carefully” to make sure investors are not putting pressure on clubs to trade players, Reiter, the player agency executive, said.
“The first priority should not be the revenue of the investor,” Reiter said.
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