In March 2012, Barcelona defender Eric Abidal underwent a liver transplant after an earlier surgery to remove a cancerous tumor was unsuccessful. The transplant, which used an organ donated by his cousin, was successful enough that Abidal was able to return to the pitch for Barcelona early in 2013 before finishing his pro career with Monaco in the French league and Olympiacos in Greece. Last month, he returned to Barcelona as its director of football.

It’s a nice little story of athletic perseverance, or it least it would have been had Barcelona’s then-president not suggested he bought the liver for his player on the black market and used the cousin story as part of the coverup.

So says Spanish publication El Confidencial, which claims former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell admits having “bought a liver” for Abidal in four separate telephone calls made in April 2017. The calls, between Rosell and unnamed collaborators, were uncovered by Spanish law-enforcement agencies that are investigating Rosell on money-laundering charges.

The organ-trafficking accusation led to a host of denials, starting with Abidal on Twitter:

In its own statement, Barcelona said El Confidencial’s story neglected to mention that, after investigating the matter, a Catalan court cleared the club of any wrongdoing involving an illegal organ purchase last year. (After the El Confidencial story was published, the court issued a statement saying the case was closed.) According to ESPN, organ trafficking in Spain is punishable by six to 12 years in prison.

“This only serves to damage the honourability of Abidal, of all the organisations linked to transplants, of FC Barcelona, and of the club’s former president Sandro Rosell,” Barcelona said in a statement. “The club deeply regrets the lack of rigour in the publication of the information related to such a sensitive topic.”

The Barcelona hospital where Abidal had surgery also issued a denial to the BBC.

Rosell resigned as Barcelona’s president in January 2014 after being accused of misappropriating funds involved in the signing of star forward Neymar away from Brazilian club Santos in the summer of 2013.

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