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The European Commission said Wednesday that Champions League giants Real Madrid are among a clutch of football clubs facing a "preliminary" probe over the possible receipt of illegal state aid.
"I can confirm that Real Madrid is one of the clubs we are looking at," Antoine Colombani, spokesman for Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, told a regular news briefing, following a report in The Independent newspaper.
His remarks suggest European Union authorities are starting to act on longstanding vows championed with UEFA to clean up financial dealings at the top of the game and could serve as a warning to other huge spending clubs.
The EU executive -- which has the power to issue massive fines and has hit the likes of computer giant Microsoft for hundreds of millions of euros -- is also examining "fiscal and social obligations" for clubs in a number of leagues around Europe, Colombani said.
Hours before Real, currently trailing Barcelona in Spain's La Liga championship, kick off against Turkey's Galatasaray in the Champions League quarter finals, the Commission said it is probing "complaints or information stemming from companies or individuals."
Colombani stressed that Brussels had not yet decided whether to open a formal state-aid investigation, such as is the case already for leading Dutch club PSV Eindhoven and four others in the Netherlands.
According to The Independent, Real benefitted from a real-estate deal with the Madrid local authority that saw land sold to the club in 1998 for 421,000 euros revalued at 22.7 million euros in 2011.
"Professional football clubs should be well managed and not ask for help from the taxpayer when facing financial difficulties," said Almunia, from Galicia in Spain, when announcing the Dutch investigation last month.
The head of the UEFA governing body for the game in Europe, former French footballing star Michel Platini, has long pinned his reputation on bringing about 'Financial Fair Play' in a sport now dominated by big-money elite clubs.