Ex-Barcelona president Rosell released pending trial for money laundering

Former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has been released pending trial after spending nearly two years in prison accused of money laundering.

After a three-day hearing this week, Spain's national court decided that Rosell and his business partner, Joan Besoli, were no longer a flight risk and could be released while the case concludes.

As part of his conditional release, Rosell has had his passport taken off him and must reside at a fixed address in Spain. He also must appear at the national court as and when required as the trial continues. It is expected to end on March 28.

Rosell, 54, was arrested in 2017 on charges of money laundering involving the sale of television rights for Brazil matches, while a sponsorship contract signed between Nike and Brazil is also under investigation.

The former Nike executive is accused of having laundered €15 million in Andorra for audiovisual rights to Brazil national team fixtures before he took over at Barcelona in 2010.

His arrest was part of the investigation known as "Operation Rimet" in reference to former FIFA president Jules Rimet. Authorities said the operation used information from the FBI following the U.S. case against high-level FIFA officials in 2015.

Rosell had previously been denied bail several times since being arrested almost 650 days ago, with prosecutors pushing for an 11-year prison term and a fine of nearly €60m.

The former Barca chief has maintained his innocence from day one and speaking at the trial this week offered up all his assets in a bid to secure bail.

"I won't respond to the [prosecution] because their indictment is full of falsities," Rosell said. "There was no commission -- neither legal nor illegal -- there was just an agreed-upon payment made to company legally.

"I am prepared to put up all of my estate -- valued at €36m -- for bail. I will never miss a visit. I am innocent. I will defend my prestige and my honour. I make all my assets available as a guarantee of that."

There has been increasing support for Rosell among Barca fans in recent weeks. At several home games at Camp Nou, large banners have been unveiled by supporters, reading: "Freedom for Sandro."

Rosell resigned as Barca president in 2014 following four years in charge after being accused of misappropriation of funds from the €57m signing of Neymar. He was replaced by his No.2, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who remains in charge.

"Finally, a completely unjust situation has ended for Sandro Rosell and Joan Besoli," Bartomeu tweeted after the decision was announced. "Twenty-one months in prison.

"Now free, surrounded by friends and family, they can better defend their innocence."