A court document states that FC Barcelona is under investigation for “sustained… active bribery.”
According to a court document that CNN obtained, FC Barcelona and numerous current and former soccer club officials are formally under investigation as suspects in “the sustained crime of active bribery.” This is the latest development in an alleged inappropriate payment scandal that has cast a cloud over Spanish sports.
Barcelona is being looked at for allegedly paying former top Spanish referee José Mara Enrquez Negreira improperly.
A Guardia Civil official told CNN on Thursday that officers had investigated the offices of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) that morning in search of evidence in the case.
While no arrests are anticipated, the representative will not elaborate on the search.
A source close to FC Barcelona told CNN that the club has not released an official comment on the probe but that its attorneys have evaluated all conceivable court outcomes, including the present labeling of the club as a suspect, and are working and moving ahead accordingly.
Prosecutors have accused the Barcelona club of engaging in “continued corruption between individuals in the sports field” in a case called “the Negreira case” in Spanish soccer. The charge was filed in a Barcelona court earlier this year.
From 1993 to 2018, Negreira served as vice president of the CTA. According to the prosecution, various current and former club executives knew of payments totaling over €7 million (almost $7.4 million) billed to two firms he formed that “acted on behalf of and indirectly benefit Barcelona.”
In Spain, league and national competitive matches are assigned referees and assistance by the CTA, the regulating body.
The formal charge submitted by the prosecutor in March of this year alleges that the club entered into a “strictly confidential verbal agreement” with Negreira to produce “actions which tended to favor Barcelona in the form of refereeing decisions.”
Judge Joaquin Aguirre López, who is presiding over the investigation at the 1st Investigation Court of Barcelona, said in a court document from Wednesday that the alleged crimes committed by Negreira, Barça, and the other accused amounted to bribery rather than ongoing corruption.
According to the paper, Aguirre López said, “Whether or not a systemic corruption of Spanish refereeing resulting from said payments is proven, the crime of bribery has been consummated when the payment was made.”
From 2001 through 2018, the court filing detailed yearly payments between 70,000 and 700,000 euros ($74,000 and $740,000).
Further in the court document, the judge said that “by logical deduction,” the club’s interests were “satisfied” owing to the length of time and rise in payment since the payments ended when Negreira departed his job in 2018. He continued, saying that the bribes “produced the desired effects on referees,” leading to “consequent systemic corruption in… Spanish refereeing,” which in turn hurt soccer in Spain.
Barça said in February that a “thorough and independent investigation” was underway, and in March, an FCB source categorically denied to CNN that the club had ever attempted to bribe or otherwise influence a referee.
Xavi, the head coach, was asked about the newest Caso Negreira developments on Thursday at a news conference. He said, “You already know my stance regarding the Caso Negreira. There will be more Negreira content next week. One more is coming in 15 days. And another one in about a month and a half.
He said, “I have never had the notion, never, and I say it, that the referees have benefited us. Never.”
LaLiga President Javier Tebas told reporters on Thursday that the issue of the Civil Guard’s visit to the RFEF offices is “very important to be able to continue the investigations; that’s why permission was given for the search.”
Both La Liga and Barcelona’s soccer rival Real Madrid are named as plaintiffs in the dispute.
In a statement released in March, Los Blancos stated, “Real Madrid wishes to express its utmost concern regarding the gravity of the facts and reiterates its confidence in the legal system.” When the court opens the trial to the impacted parties, the club has consented to attend to defend its legal rights.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) informed CNN it had no comment while an inquiry was ongoing. It has, however, previously said that a final judgment on Barça’s admittance or expulsion from European club tournaments is pending further review.
CNN has attempted to contact Negreira via his firm for comment but has not yet heard back.