RUi Costa’s first assignment as chairman of Benfica was not exactly what he might have expected. Two days after the elegant midfielder who won 94 caps for Portugal replaced Luís Filipe Vieira, arrested last week as part of Operation Red Card’s investigation into allegations of tax fraud and money laundering silver, Costa watched the club’s women’s roller hockey team clinch the brace as they beat Infante Sagres 7-0 in the cup final on Sunday.
“We wanted to give him his first title as president,” said striker Maria Sofia Silva. “We have worked all year for this – this is the DNA of Benfica.
Costa, spotted at the age of five by the legendary Eusébio, knows everything about Portugal’s most popular club. After a week that began with the exercise of 45 warrants by agents of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Penal Prosecutions (DCIAP) including the search of the headquarters of the second private financial institution in the country, Novo Banco, as part of investigation and ended in trade With Benfica’s shares temporarily on hold, the man who won the Champions League with Milan in 2003 has been asked to pick up the pieces.
Vieira had taken office as president the same year, Costa was celebrating that final victory over Juventus in a penalty shootout – and was placed under house arrest by a judge until he posted bail of € 3 million (£ 2.6 million). Benfica stressed that the club was not under investigation, and three other people who had previously been arrested for questioning, namely Vieira Thiago’s son, businessman José Antonio dos Santos – known as the name “Chicken King” – and agent Bruno Macedo, were released on bail.
They are accused of having orchestrated a scheme of tax evasion and money laundering since 2014 “totaling more than 100 million euros, which could have caused significant damage to the state and to certain companies” , according to a statement from DCIAP.
Some of the charges are said to be linked to transfers to Benfica from Paraguayans Derlis González and Claudio Correa and Brazilian César Martins, of which € 2.5million was reportedly transferred by the club to a fund held by Macedo in the United States prior to his transfer. via similar funds in the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia and returned to Portugal to a fund that authorities suspect of “only covering the identity of the real managers, Luís Filipe Vieira and Tiago Vieira”.
In a statement issued shortly after his arrest, Vieira denied the charges and announced that he would temporarily step down as president, but called on his supporters to “remain calm in defending the good reputation of the wonderful institution that is Benfica. “. After three nights in police custody and four hours of interrogation, he was allowed to return home under guard on Saturday evening.
Vieira’s lawyer Magalhães e Silva revealed in a TV interview on Tuesday that his client had not given up on a return to Benfica even though the club promised elections for a new board before the end of the season. ‘year.
“He has suspended his duties as president and when he decides to resume, nothing will stop him,” he said. “He’s the one who will decide. I never know if a client is innocent. What I can know is if there is any evidence to blame him. In this case, I have none. doubts that Luís Filipe Vieira is innocent of the facts attributed to him.
As for Vieira’s reaction to the appointment of Costa – who had been vice-president, having worked as director of football – as his successor, Silva admitted that it had not gone very well.
“He only found out about it on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “He was in solitary confinement late Friday afternoon and the last thing I would say to him was before the interrogation. I told him after the interrogation and his exclamation was “Did they do this?” With an air of bitterness. He said absolutely nothing else. I let him calm down to digest this situation.
Costa is said to be ready to take on this role permanently after holding talks, although a poll of supporters of mainstream Diário de Notícias suggested that 62% would prefer the entire board of Benfica to resign; 88% wanted Vieira to withdraw permanently.
The announcement on Tuesday that US businessman John Textor had reached a deal to buy a 25% stake in Benfica from Dos Santos was potentially good news for Benfica fans. The 57-year-old from Florida, a former major shareholder of streaming service fuboTV, has had talks with Newcastle about a possible takeover this year and has been linked with Crystal Palace in recent weeks. Previously, he had hinted that he might have reservations about buying shares after the arrest of Vieira, who made his fortune in construction before investing in real estate.
“I am digesting the unexpected news that is affecting SL Benfica very quickly,” Textor wrote on its website this week. “Although I looked forward to meeting the management team of SL Benfica in the coming weeks, I am now assessing whether or not I intend to consume a purchase of SLBEN shares. It was my great hope to be received as a positive and contributing partner to the Benfica community and obviously I have to assess the remarkable change of circumstances as I assess this opportunity.
Benfica suspended trading in the shares for two hours on Tuesday due to possible “irregularities” but informed the Lisbon Stock Exchange that evening that they had received notification of the agreement between Textor and a local shareholder for Textor to acquire participation in a club he described as the “sleeping giant of world football”. Still, while Portuguese channel TVI reported that Benfica’s general assembly could still block the Textor acquisition, it remains to be seen whether Vieira or Costa will be part of a possible revival.