Barcelona could be hit with severe punishments after a report claimed they paid £1.2 million to a referee chief’s company between 2016 and 2018.
Spanish outlet Cadena SER, via Forbes, say the Barcelona prosecutor’s office alleges that the payments were made to former vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, during the presidency of Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Bartomeu, who was accused of corruption by the police in 2020, says the payments, of which there were three in total, were legitimate and were active from 2003 onwards but came to a halt due to the club’s need to cut costs.
As per the Que t’hi jugues programme on SER, €532,728.02 was transferred in 2016, €541,752 was paid in 2017, and the lowest fee of €318,200 was sent 2018.
The Athletic reports payments were made through a company called DASNIL 95, which was set up by Enriquez Negreira and saw his son involved in the day-to-day running.
When testifying as part of a corruption investigation, the pair denied any wrongdoing and say payments made were concerning expert advice being given on behaviours towards different referees.
They also stress there was no favouritism towards Barcelona on the pitch.
That stance was backed up by the club, which issued an official statement on the matter and say they will take legal action “against those who damage the club’s image”.
They also fumed over the timing of the news, which comes as they sit 11 points clear at the top of La Liga.
The statement read: “After the information broadcast today on the programme Que t’hi jugues on Ser Catalunya, Barcelona, knowing the facts which the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating related to payments made to external companies, wants to make clear:
“That in the past Barcelona contracted the services of an external technical consultant, who provided, in video form, technical reports referring to players from the youth categories of the Spanish state for the club’s technical secretary.
“Additionally, the relationship with this external provider expanded to technical reports related to professional refereeing, with a view to complementing the information required by the first-team and academy coaching staff, a usual practice in professional football clubs.
“At present, these types of external services fall to a professional assigned to the Area of Football.
“Barcelona regrets that this information appeared just at the best sporting moment of the present season.
“Barcelona will take legal action against those who damage the club’s image with possible insinuations contrary to the reputation of the institution which could be produced based on this information.”
At the time of writing, it’s alleged former La Liga referee Negreira, who was in a senior position within the Royal Spanish Football Federation between 1994 and 2018, has been unable to provide documentation supporting his claim regarding the service he says he supplied to Barca.
If Barca were to be found guilty, they would be at risk of relegation or having points docked.
Manager Xavi Hernandez was asked about the story circulating in his press conference ahead of the Europa League play-off with Manchester United on Thursday.
Xavi commented: “I’ve been told we have done a public statement, and I follow what the club says. I think it has happened in years I was not involved with the club, but I will always defend the institution.
“We always analyse referees from an internal perspective. We check how they conduct the game if they are very communicative or not… those are things we work on from a long time ago, but on an internal level.”