Spanish state prosecutors are investigating if FC Barcelona should face corruption charges for paying a former referee as a consultant.
Bitter sports fans angry after a close and contested loss often indiscriminately blame referees and cavalierly throw around accusations that their victorious opponents must have paid the referees off.
In the case of opponents of FC Barcelona, there potentially may be some merit there.
Spanish state prosecutors are investigating whether Barca and former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu should face corruption charges for payments totaling €7 million made to former La Liga referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira. Negreira worked as a Barcelona consultant between 2001 and 2018, with the final three years and €1.4 million in payments occurring while he was the acting vice president of the Spanish Refereeing Committee after serving on the committee as far back as 1994. The 2016-2018 period is what sparked the probe from Spain’s tax officials, but Barca adamantly denied any related wrongdoing in regard to influencing matches, with current and former club president Joan Laporta claiming the payments were for technical reports for referees, refereeing, and youth players.
“Barca have never bought referees nor influence,” Laporta said Tuesday. “That was never the intention and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those that are trying to tell a different story.”
While La Liga can’t sanction FC Barcelona because more than three years have passed, it won’t stop UEFA and FIFA from potentially taking punitive action after the Royal Spanish Football Federation requested all documents and information related to the investigation.
Late last month, Spanish referee Xavier Estrada Fernandez filed a criminal lawsuit in Barcelona against Negreira and a separately reported suit against his Dansil 95 company alleging sporting fraud. Estrada Fernandez, now a VAR official, alleges Negreira’s leadership role in the refereeing committee had or could have had an influence on La Liga referees and FC Barcelona’s payments had an obvious motive.
Several hundred former and active Spanish referees conducted a news conference in Madrid last Thursday, trying to distance themselves from Negreira and these allegations.
“We want to make clear that no one has more at stake than we do in assuring that justice is served,” referee José Sánchez quoted a manifesto representing the refs. The manifesto aimed to make clear that “alleged acts by a person that in his time formed part of this house won’t stain our image and the honor of this great body.”
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