Barcelona reportedly face the prospect of relegation from La Liga, being docked points, or a variety of other extreme punishments amid an investigation into claims of payments totaling £1.2 million made to a company belonging to former referees committee vice president, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, reports express.co.uk.
The payments were reportedly made between 2016 and 2018, when Barca were under the stewardship of Josep Maria Bartomeu.
The former Blaugrana president claims that such payments date back as far as 2003 but insists that they were legitimately made and stopped suddenly due to cost-cutting efforts.
Negreira served as vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees between 1994 and 2018. The Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office alleges that the payments were made by the club to his company, DASNIL 95, over a two-year period.
As first reported by Catalan radio station Cadena SER, Negreira and his son have denied that Barcelona received any preferential treatment as a result of the payments, which were allegedly staggered over three instalments.
Instead, Negreira claims that the money was paid for him to advise on issues such as how players should behave in front of match officials. So far, however, he has reportedly been unable to provide paperwork or documentation to support this.
According to Forbes, the club could eventually be relegated or have points deducted as a result of the probe.
Former Barca president, Joan Gaspart, who served for three years in the early 2000s, denies knowledge of the payments, while current chief, Joan Laporta, points to an official statement released by the club, which stated: “FC Barcelona regrets that this information appears precisely at the best sporting moment of the current season.”
La Blaugrana admitted that they had hired the services of an “external technical consultant,” which is also thought to have included tips on what players can or cannot do depending on which referee takes charge of the match, but they deny any wrongdoing.
The statement continued: “After the information broadcast today on the program Que t’hi jugues on Ser Catalunya, Barcelona, knowing the facts that the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating related to payments made to external companies, wants to make it 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 include 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.
Barcelona are currently on an 11-match winning streak and flying under Xavi, with their nearest La Liga challengers, Real Madrid, trailing 11 points behind. The Nou Camp will host Manchester United in the Europa League this evening.