Barcelona President Laporta denies crimes in refereeing scandal

Barcelona and former club presidents face corruption charges related to allegations of improper payments.

FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta gestures during a press conference
Joan Laporta says the allegations are part of a 'smear campaign' against Barcelona, currently top of La Liga [Albert Gea/Reuters]

Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona football club, says all payments made to a company owned by a senior refereeing official were transparent and came in exchange for technical reports and not to get any illegal sporting advantage.

A Barcelona court agreed to take on the case last week after prosecutors filed a complaint over what they alleged were payments of 7.3 million euros ($7.95m) from 2001 to 2018 to firms owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.

Negreira is a former referee and ex-vice president of the refereeing committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation from 1994 to 2018. Barcelona said they paid him for reports and advice related to refereeing.

“Obviously, referees were not bought, and there was no attempt to influence their decisions,” Laporta said at a news conference on Monday called to discuss the affair at the club’s Camp Nou stadium.

The club “has never done anything with the goal or intention of altering the competition to achieve some type of sporting advantage”, Laporta said.

He also attacked Barca rivals Real Madrid, who have joined the prosecutor’s case against Barcelona. Laporta said Real had always been historically favoured by refereeing. There was no immediate response from Real Madrid.

The allegations of wrongdoing are part of a “smear campaign” against the Catalan side, which is currently top of La Liga, Laporta charged.

“Basically, it is an orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of FC Barcelona,” Laporta said.

The scandal first broke after inspections from the tax office into Negreira’s accounts.

Laporta recalled that Spain’s tax office sent a letter to prosecutors stating that “it has not been able to demonstrate that the payments made to Negreira’s companies could have influenced the referees or the result of any match”.

“They could not show it because it was not possible,” Laporta said.

The club, Negreira and two of the club’s former presidents, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, face the same corruption charges.

La Liga President Javier Tebas has said Spanish football is enduring its “worst” ever moment because of the refereeing corruption case involving Barcelona.

“The reputation of our football is at stake,” he said last month. “I am ashamed. We have no explanation from Barcelona.”

Barcelona’s place in future Champions League competitions could also be at risk after UEFA, European football’s governing body, announced in March that it will also be investigating the allegations.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told Slovenian media in early April that the case was “extremely serious”.

“So serious that it is, in my opinion, one of the most serious [cases] in football since I have been involved in it,” he said.

Barcelona are currently 11 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga with nine games left to play as Barcelona legend Xavi closes in on his first title as coach of his former club.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies