Barcelona charged with corruption over payments to ex-referees’ chief

Barcelona have been charged with corruption over payments the club made to ex-vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, .

On Friday, the public prosecutor’s office said Spanish prosecutors had filed a complaint against the Catalan giants and two of the LaLiga club’s ex-presidents over alleged payments to a company owned by the senior refereeing official to influence match results,

The club allegedly paid over €7.3m (£6.4m) between 2001 and 2018 to firms owned by Enriquez Negreira, who held the role at the Spanish football association between 1993 and 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 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 “the club will fully cooperate with the investigation in all means necessary” and “reiterates that they have never bought any referee nor have tried to influence any official’s decisions.”

The club denied wrongdoing in a statement last month, saying 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 €2.9m 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.

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