FC Barcelona strikes back: The Catalan club has sued nine journalists and media over reports of millions in payments that have flowed from its boardroom to a senior referee official. The unusual procedure makes it clear the pressure the club is under to take such measures.
FC Barcelona's accusation is that the journalists only reported on the corruption allegations in the room in order to damage the club's reputation. That's what the newspaper "Sport" said on Wednesday. It was not initially known which journalists and media were involved. FC Barcelona confirmed the ad on request.
The case, which the media made public around four weeks ago, is about investigations by the public prosecutor's office that have now led to a lawsuit against FC Barcelona on suspicion of corruption and sports fraud. It has been one of the dominant topics in the Spanish media for weeks. From 2001 to 2018, the club paid a total of 7.3 million euros to the second-highest referee official in the country, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, or to his company.
Allegedly, Negreira provided short reports on referees in which he came to banal assessments, for example whether a referee likes to play cards. Some of these reports became public and also revealed that Negreira suffers from severe spelling problems. However, the public prosecutors did not believe that the banal content was worth more than 400,000 euros per year and filed a complaint.
In their complaint, the public prosecutor's office emphasizes that Spain's CTA Referees Committee is responsible for appointing referees in the league and for the promotions and relegations of referees. According to the prosecutors, FC Barcelona was "looking to be favored by referees". Now there will be a trial against the club and the ex-presidents Sandro Rosell (2010-2014) and Josep Maria Bartomeu (2014-2018).
What is striking about the story is that the 77-year-old Negreira apparently did not spend the money on himself. However, he is said to have often withdrawn large sums in cash, as reported by Spanish media. This raises suspicions that the official served as a messenger to deliver the money to referees. All of the suspects deny the allegations.
The consequences that a conviction of FC Barcelona could have are open. In terms of sports law, there is no threat of trouble because the three-year limitation period has expired. But there is great fear that Uefa might refuse the club participation in the Champions League.
The Uefa Ethics and Disciplinary Committee is already investigating. Exclusion would hit the club extremely hard financially. The Catalans are still lugging around a mountain of debt of almost a billion euros, but things are going well in terms of sport. Coach Xavi's team may have been eliminated from the Europa League, but they lead the table in the Primera Division by twelve points over arch-rivals Real Madrid and are still in the cup. The national double is possible this season.
Sources: DPA, "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "kicker"