According to a court document that was obtained by Reuters on Thursday, the Spanish football club Barcelona is under investigation for alleged “active bribery” as part of a probe into suspected corruption spanning two decades at the officiating committee. This inquiry is part of a larger investigation into suspected corruption at the refereeing committee.
As part of the continuing investigation into “possible systemic corruption” inside the CTA, police also searched the offices of the Spanish refereeing committee (CTA) on Thursday, according to the Barcelona court. These searches took place within the headquarters of the football federation (RFEF), which is located in Madrid.
As a result of accusations of sexual misconduct levelled against former RFEF president Luis Rubiales, the Spanish football community as a whole and the RFEF in particular are facing a time of reckoning.
On August 20, Rubiales gave World Cup champion Jenni Hermoso a passionate kiss on the lips, which sparked a controversy that mainly overshadowed both the women’s team victory in Sydney and the refereeing incident. Rubiales has since apologised for his actions. Since then, Rubiales has left the company.
The inquiry into the referees has been expanded to include Barcelona as a possible suspect at this point. At the beginning of September, the investigating judge Joaquin Aguirre Lopez said that the club may have benefitted from corruption.
Prosecutors lodged a charge in March alleging that businesses controlled by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who served as vice-president of the RFEF’s refereeing committee from 1993 until 2018, received more than 7.3 million euros ($7.8 million) in payments over a period of 17 years. The case was submitted in March.
Negreira could not be reached for comment by Reuters at this time. Unfortunately, RFEF was unable to provide a comment right away.
According to a source who spoke with Reuters, Barcelona would not release an official statement. The same source said that the club’s criminal attorneys “had already contemplated this hypothesis and… have been preparing for it from day one, working on all aspects related to this case.”
Xavi, the current manager of Barcelona and a player for the team from 1998 until 2015, said to the press that he had never had the impression that the referees favoured Barcelona.
“I have never, ever had the feeling that the referees were ruling in our favour. I can honestly say that.” Never in a million years, he assured the reporters.
La Liga champions Barcelona have denied any wrongdoing, claiming in a statement released in February that the club had engaged an external consultant who gave them with “technical reports related to professional refereeing.” According to Barcelona, this is a typical practise among professional football teams.
Real Madrid, one of Barcelona’s most bitter rivals, had become an injured party in the case and joined the prosecution’s side.
Negreira, according to the judge Aguirre, was in charge of rating and grading the referees. According to what Aguirre claimed at the beginning of September, there is currently no evidence to suggest that Negreira paid referees to influence the outcomes of matches.