Gil appears in court to hear charges that cost him Atletico

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The Independent Online

Jesus Gil appeared in court Thursday to hear the fraud and embezzlement charges a judge has used as grounds to seize his soccer team, Atletico Madrid.

Jesus Gil appeared in court Thursday to hear the fraud and embezzlement charges a judge has used as grounds to seize his soccer team, Atletico Madrid.

News that one of Spain's most flamboyant figures had been removed as Atletico's president Wednesday was splashed over the front page of every morning paper.

In some, Gil's case received more coverage than the discovery of another car bomb attributed to Basque separatists. "It's no longer his," the sports newspaper Marca headlined.

Prosecutors say the 66-year-old Gil engaged in accounting irregularities and other shady means to bilk Atletico, its minority shareholders and the Spanish government of $54 million since he became the team's owner in 1992, news reports said.

Part of the alleged fraud involves the transaction seven years ago in which Gil and his associates gained control of 95 percent of the team.

Judge Manuel Garcia Castellon says Gil and team vice president Enrique Cerezo altered the team's financial records so they could acquire that $12 million stake without spending any of their own money.

In one particularly bizarre transaction involving a sports promotion firm owned by Gil, the judge says Gil settled a $16 million debt with Atletico by granting it the rights to four foreigners he said were soccer players.

But the judge charged that only one of them actually plays professionally, and the other three include an Angolan construction worker who lives in a shelter for asylum-seekers and a Senegalese man who is unemployed.

Gil already was the subject of a separate probe into alleged fraudulent dealings between the city hall of Marbella, the posh southern resort where he is mayor, and Atletico.

After the new case broke on Wednesday, Gil denied any wrongdoing and blamed the seizure on what he called reprisal for his political ambitions.

Gil leads a pro-business political party that is named after himself and has made big inroads in Ceuta and Melilla, tiny Spanish enclaves on the coast of North Africa.

Also, Gil once considered running for a seat in the national parliament next spring, but has withdrawn, citing a heart condition.

Judge Garcia Castellon has appointed an administrator to run the team while the investigation of its finances continues. The administrator is to report back to the judge in March.

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