BARCELONA: Spanish prosecutors on Friday charged Barcelona with corruption over payments the club made to a former vice-president of Spain´s referees´ committee through a company owned by him.
According to the prosecution, the Catalan club paid a total of more than 7.3 million euros to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, former referee and ex-vice president of the refereeing committee of the Spanish football federation between 1994 and 2018.
Two of the club´s former presidents, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, as well as Enriquez Negreira are facing the same charge, originating from the Barcelona prosecutor´s office.
Enriquez Negreira was allegedly paid for providing the club with advice on topics relating to referees.
"FC Barcelona obtained and maintained a strictly confidential verbal agreement with Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira so that, in his capacity as vice-president of the Technical Arbitral Committee (CTA) and in exchange for money, the latter carries out actions tending to benefit FC Barcelona in decisions by the referees," explained the Barcelona public prosecutor´s office.
The investigation began after Spain´s tax authorities identified irregularities in tax payments made between 2016 and 2018 by the company Dasnil 95 — owned by Enriquez Negreira.
Dasnil 95 reportedly received payments from Barcelona between those years.
The last invoice, according to Cadena Ser radio, was issued in June 2018. After that the CTA was restructured and Enriquez Negreira left the organisation.
This week, current Barca boss Joan Laporta insisted his club had never "bought referees".
Reports claim the Catalan side paid 6.5 million euros ($6.9 million) between 2001 and 2018 to Enriquez Negreira´s firm.
"Let it be clear Barca have never bought referees and Barca have never had the intention of buying referees, absolutely never," said Laporta on Tuesday.
Barcelona says Dasnil 95 was paid to advise the club on refereeing matters. But the prosecutors suspect the money could have been used to corrupt game officials.
On the sporting level, Barcelona face no immediate danger because the governing bodies of Spanish, European and world football have five-year statute of limitations, Liga president Javier Tebas has said.
On the criminal level, the accused could face up to four years in prison.
Sanctions against the club could range from ´suspension of activity...to outright dissolution´ as a company," Alberto Palomar, professor of law at Carlos III University of Madrid told AFP.
The case has cast a shadow over Spain´s refereeing body, which last week demanded that a single person´s alleged actions not "tarnish" the "image" and "honour" of all referees.
"The problem concerns us because it harms Spanish football and sport," Spanish Culture and Sports Minister Miquel Iceta said on Tuesday.