Football: Barcelona charged with corruption over referee payments

Barcelona players celebrate a La Liga goal against Valencia, at their Camp Nou stadium, on March 5, 2023.. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA – Spanish prosecutors have charged Barcelona and two of the La Liga club’s ex-presidents over payments to a company owned by a senior refereeing official to allegedly influence match results, the public prosecutor’s office said on Friday.

A judge has yet to decide whether to take up the case.

The club reportedly paid over €7.3 million (S$10.5 million) between 2001 and 2018 to a firm owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who was vice-president of the refereeing committee of the Spanish football association in 1993-2018.

Prosecutors claim that under a secret agreement and in exchange for money, Negreira favoured Barcelona “in the decisions taken by referees in the games played by the club, as well as in the results of the competitions”.

A senior Barcelona official told Reuters the club expected the complaint but said that it was “nothing more than an absolutely preliminary investigative hypothesis” from the prosecutors and that “now is when the judicial investigation properly begins”.

The official added that they will fully cooperate with the investigation in all means necessary and reiterated that they have never bought any referee nor have tried to influence any official’s decisions.

Barcelona had denied wrongdoing in a statement in February, saying that they had simply paid an external consultant that supplied them with “technical reports related to professional refereeing”, calling it a “common practice among professional football clubs”.

The complaint focuses on the €2.9 million paid between 2014 and 2018 and alleges that Barcelona – with the help of former presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu – reached a “confidential verbal agreement” with Negreira.

It accuses the club, Rosell, Bartomeu, Negreira and two other former Barcelona officials of corruption in sports, unfair administration and falsehood in mercantile documents.

The investigation was triggered by a tax inspection.

Negreira told the Spanish tax agency that Barcelona’s goal with the payments was to have “neutral” referees in their games, according to El Pais newspaper. REUTERS

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