Barcelona charged with corruption over payments to former referee official

Barcelona have been charged with corruption over payments made to a former referee official.

The club allegedly paid over €7.3m (£6.4m) to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who was the vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee between 1993 and 2018.

A Barcelona court heard on Friday that Barca, former club officials and Negreira had been indicted for ‘corruption’, ‘breach of trust’ and ‘false business records’.

Prosecutors claim that Barcelona had a secret agreement with Negreira which ensured favourable decisions for the club in La Liga games and other competitions.

‘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,’ said the public prosecutor’s office.

Barcelona denied any wrongdoing in a statement last month and claimed the money was in exchange for external consultancy that supplied them with ‘technical reports related to professional refereeing’.

The La Liga giants added that it was a ‘common practice among professional football clubs’, but La Liga chief executive Javier Tebas said Barcelona president Joan Laporta should resign if he was unable to explain the payments.

Speaking earlier this week, Laporta said: ‘Let it be clear Barca have never bought referees and Barca have never had the intention of buying referees, absolutely never.’

Despite Barcelona’s stance, 18 of the 20 La Liga clubs have expressed ‘deep concern’ over the allegations.

Barcelona boss Xavi, who won eight La Liga titles at the Nou Camp between 1998 and 2015, said he had no knowledge of the payments and would have left if he thought his team had an unfair advantage.

‘I always wanted to win, but fairly,’ the Spain legend said. ‘If I thought we were cheating I’d have gone home.’

Barcelona are currently nine points clear of second-placed Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. Xavi’s side were knocked out of the Europa League last month by Manchester United.

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