22nd June 2024
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Spanish government to side against Barça over ‘referee payments’ case

The Spanish government’s sports authority will take action against FC Barcelona in the legal proceedings the club is facing for its payments over several years to a company that belonged to the vice president of the country’s refereeing committee. ALSO READ: Barça threaten legal action against ‘insinuations’ after paying for referee reports.

José Manuel Franco, president of Spain’s sports council, said on channel TeleCinco that the government will join the other accusing parties in the legal proceedings against the club.

The council is the latest to announce plans to act after prosecutors on Friday formally accused Barça of alleged corruption, fraudulent management and falsification of documentation. An investigating judge will decide whether the accusations should lead to charges.

The club has denied wrongdoing but has been widely criticised across Spain.

The legal proceedings started after it was revealed that Spain’s tax officials were probing Barcelona’s payment of €1.4 million from 2016-18 to a company belonging to José María Enríquez Negreira, a former referee who was a part of the Spanish Football Federation refereeing committee from 1994 to 2018.

The prosecutors said in court documents that the payments by the club actually reached €7.3 million from 2001-18. They said that this ‘quantity was not justified because it was not foreseen in the statutes of the club nor approved by its general assembly [of club members]’.

It would mean that Barcelona paid Enríquez Negreira’s company during different club presidents, including from 2003-10 under the first term of current president Joan Laporta, who again took charge in 2021. Laporta, however, is not being accused by the prosecutor and has denied any wrongdoing.

The accusations are against Barcelona the club, Enríquez Negreira, former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and former Barcelona executives Óscar Grau and Albert Soler.

Prosecutors said there was sufficient evidence to believe that Rosell and Bartomeu ‘reached a confidential, verbal agreement’ with Negreira, who, ‘in exchange for money, was to carry out acts tending to favour Barcelona football club in the decision-making process of referees in the games played by Barcelona, and in the results of the competitions’.

However, there is so far no evidence that referees or game results were actually influenced. The refereeing committee to which Negreira belonged assigned referees to games, chose which ones worked in which division, and picked the ones for international competitions.

Real Madrid announced after an urgent board meeting Sunday that it will also side against its biggest rival, becoming the latest club to express concerns about the case. The Spanish league and the Spanish Football Federation also planned to act.

FC Barcelona president Laporta on Sunday tweeted: ‘Barça is innocent of the accusations made against it and is the victim of a campaign, that now involves everyone, to harm its honourability. It is no surprise, and we will defend Barça and prove that the Club is innocent. Many will be forced to rectify.’

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