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Barcelona under investigation for ‘active bribery’

Barcelona has been included as a suspect in the refereeing investigation amid allegations of benefitting from graft. (AFP pic)

MADRID: Spanish football club Barcelona are under investigation for “active bribery” as part of a probe into suspected corruption spanning two decades within the refereeing committee, according to a court document seen by Reuters today.

Police also searched the offices of the Royal Spanish Football Federation in Madrid today, the Barcelona court said, as part of the ongoing enquiry into “possible systemic corruption” within the Spanish refereeing committee.

Spanish football and the RFEF in particular are going through a moment of reckoning amid allegations of sexual abuse against former RFEF president Luis Rubiales.

Rubiales kissed Women’s World Cup winner Jenni Hermoso on the lips on Aug 20, setting off a furore that largely overshadowed both the women’s team triumph in Sydney and the refereeing scandal. Rubiales has since quit.

The refereeing investigation has now been widened to include Barcelona as a suspect. Investigating judge Joaquin Aguirre Lopez said earlier in September that the club may have benefitted from graft.

In March, prosecutors filed a complaint over alleged payments of more than €7.3 million over 17 years to firms owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who was vice-president of the RFEF’s refereeing committee from 1993 to 2018.

Reuters has been unable to reach Negreira. RFEF and Barcelona were not immediately available for comment.

Barcelona has denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement in February that it had paid an external consultant who supplied it with “technical reports related to professional refereeing”, which it said was a common practice among professional football clubs.

Barcelona’s arch-rivals Real Madrid had joined the prosecution in the lawsuit as a damaged party.

According to judge Aguirre, Negreira was responsible for ranking and evaluating the referees. However, no evidence has been found of Negreira paying referees to influence match results, Aguirre said in early September.