In a bombshell development for Spanish football, FC Barcelona is being investigated by authorities over allegations of bribery connected to the former VP of Spain’s refereeing committee.
Investigating judge Joaquín Aguirre has drawn the conclusion that the Spanish club has been trying to buy influence over officials refereeing LALIGA matches between 2001 and 2018, according to Spanish media reports.
Official documents show that in that period, Barcelona has paid around €7.3m (£6.3m) to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira – the former VP of Spain’s refereeing committee.
This has caused concerns as Negreira had significant influence over the decisions which referees get promoted to officiate LALIGA’s most important games during his time in office. Barcelona has claimed to have been paying the refs for consulting and reports.
If the case reaches trial, current FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta (previous club presidency 2003-2010), together with former presidents Sandro Rosell (2010-2014) and Josep Maria Bartomeu (2014-2020), could also face charges for bribery of a government official – essentially what Negreira served as between 2001 and 2018.
According to Spain’s legal framework, if a bribery case goes to trial there would be no need to prove direct influence being purchased, with the police currently having no evidence of payments made by Negreira to referees. Instead, a verdict can be reached only by a conclusion that intent to buy said influence exists, which judge Aguirre seems to be convinced in.
The law in Spain currently carries sentencing between three to six years for charges of bribery, and six months to four years for charges of corruption.
Barça’s football future also looks foggy, as a court case would mean that the club could be stripped of a licence by UEFA to participate in next season’s Champions League. Legal trouble might also interfere with the club’s €1.5bn (£1.14m) ongoing renovations of its historic Camp Nou stadium amid mounting debt problems too.
So far the club has denied any allegations, with manager Xavi Hernández commenting: “Next week there will be another story. And in 15 days there will be another one. And a month later another. You know what I think, look at the archives. I have never had the feeling that referees have benefited us.”