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Champions League Ban on the Table as UEFA Turns Up the Heat Over Barcelona Referee Scandal

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
UEFA is examining “Caso Negreira” — alleged improper payments made to former La Liga refereeing exec José María Enríquez Negreira — and the potential penalties could be huge.

FC Barcelona‘s ongoing referee scandal is going continental.

UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, announced Thursday that it has opened an investigation into the Spanish football giants’ alleged improper payments made to former La Liga refereeing committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Punishments could vary from warnings and fines to exclusion from future competitions, including the prestigious UEFA Champions League, the most popular club sports competition on earth.

“In accordance with Article 31(4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspectors have today been appointed to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA’s legal framework by FC Barcelona in connection with the so-called ‘Caso Negreira,’” UEFA said in a statement on its website. “Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course.”

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Earlier this month, Spanish state prosecutors opened an investigation into whether the Blaugrana and former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu should face corruption charges for alleged payments totaling €7 million made to Negreira, who worked as a team consultant between 2001 and 2018. In those final three years during which Barcelona is said to have paid him €1.4 million, Negreira served as the Spanish Refereeing Committee’s acting Vice President.

Barça adamantly denied any related wrongdoing in regard to influencing matches of any kind; Barcelona’s local prosecutor’s office also charged the club with “the crime of continued false administration and the crime of continued falsification of commercial documents.”

“Barça have never bought referees nor influence,” current (and former) FCB President Joan Laporta said earlier this month. “That was never the intention and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those that are trying to tell a different story.”

Notably, Barcelona are currently running away with the La Liga title race, sitting 12 points clear of archrivals Real Madrid in second place. Barça would automatically qualify for the 2023-24 Champions League as a result, a competition the club hasn’t missed since the 2003-04 campaign when it finished sixth in La Liga the season before.

Now, there’s an outside chance that a UEFA probe could cause them to miss out once again.

It’s too early to say how likely this would be, but stay tuned as the Caso Negreira world turns — this could stay ugly and get uglier.

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.