Barcelona in court for allegedly paying referees £6 million
A Spanish judge investigating alleged payments made by Barcelona to the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee has decreed that current president Joan Laporta and two other former presidents could stand trial for bribery.
Any court case would seriously jeopardise Barcelona’s participation in the Champions League next season and could also affect the various loans they have out on the €1.5bn (£1.14m) rebuilding of their Camp Nou stadium.
The club were originally being investigated for the crime of corruption, however, this has now escalated over a technicality.
Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira was the vice-president of the Spanish Football Federation’s refereeing committee, and is therefore considered to have been a civil servant during the time payments were being made to him.
As a result, Laporta and two other former presidents could be charged with bribery on the basis that they were allegedly buying favours from government officials.
.According to documents reproduced by Spanish media the investigation by Judge Joaquín Aguirre has concluded that it was ‘logical’ to understand that Barcelona were trying to buy influence.
Under bribery laws in Spain, if the case goes to trial, it will not be necessary to prove that influence was indeed rendered. The police investigation has so far found no record of payments by Negreira to referees. It would only be necessary to prove that there was intent on the part of Barcelona to purchase that influence.
Two other Barcelona presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell and Negreira and his son, Javier Enriquez Romero, would have to take the stand in a trial by jury along with Laporta if the case reaches trial.
Bribery sentences range from three to six years as opposed to the six months to four years for the original charge of corruption.
A court case could see UEFA suspend Barcelona’s license to play in the Champions League next season.
Football’s European governing body decided to allow Barça to participate in this season’s competition despite the fact that there was a corruption investigation underway.
Being thrown out of Europe next season would have massive consequences on Barcelona’s finances and, according to the Spanish website El Confidential, some of the club’s financial backers have clauses in their financing agreements with the club that allow them to withdraw funding of the Camp Nou rebuild if Barcelona are prosecuted.
all allegations of wrongdoing and the club briefed on Thursday that they are not overly concerned with the latest development, seeing the change of tack from corruption to bribery accusations as a consequence of no evidence having been found that they paid off referees.
When Barça coach Xavi was asked about the development on Thursday he said: ‘Next week there will be another story. And in 15 days there will be another one. And a month later another. You know what I think, look at the archives. I have never had the feeling that referees have benefited us.’