The Barcelona Prosecutor's Office alleges that Football Club Barcelona paid former vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, €1.4mn ($1.5 million) from 2016-2018 for reasons that are still being investigated. The club could face heavy penalties including relegation from La Liga should they be found guilty of using bribery to receive preferential treatment from referees.

If the Catalan giants escape relegation, they could still face milder penalties such as getting points docked at a crucial time when they are sitting on top of the league table.

The alleged payouts took place during the tenure of former club president Josep Bartomeu, who incidentally had to resign in 2020 after facing another series of scandals. The original "Barçagate" broke out at that time, wherein players accused the club of hiring a social media team to attack them online and damage their reputations. In 2021, four former executives including Bartomeu were arrested in relation to the "smear campaign."

Several former club officials were also put under investigation for leaking details of Lionel Messi's contract.

The latest continuation of "Barcagate" revolves around Enriquez Negreira, who was a technical official for the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) from 1994 to 2018. The Barcelona Prosecutor's Office claims that FC Barcelona had been paying fees to a company named DASNIL 95, which is owned by Enriquez Negreira.

In a document shared by Diario AS, the breakdown of the payments to Enriquez Negreira is as follows: €532,728.02 ($571,000) in 2016, €541,752 ($580,000) in 2017, and €318,200 ($341,000) in 2018.

Enriquez Negreira has denied that the payments were meant to give Barcelona any preferential treatment by referees during matches.

In his testimony to at the Prosecutor's Office, Enriquez Negreira insists that the payments were for work done as an advisor to the club. He says that he provided reports on how players should interact towards referees and what players can or cannot do on the pitch in relation to dealing with certain officials.

However, no documents have been provided thus far to prove that these reports exist.

Meanwhile, FC Barcelona has issued a statement admitting only that they had hired an "external technical consultant." As expected, they have denied that there was any form of bribery to ensure preferential treatment by referees.

The club stayed along the same lines as Enriquez Negreira's testimony by saying: "The relationship with the external provider itself was extended with technical reports related to professional arbitration in order to complement the information required by the coaching staff of the first team and the reserves, a common practice in professional football clubs."

Current club president Joan Laporta has also come out question why the accusations are coming to the surface at a time when the club appears to finally be getting back on its feet. After suffering a slump for the past couple of years, they are currently leading La Liga by eight points.

The club has also issued a warning saying they are ready to take legal action against those seeking to damage Barcelona's reputation.

José María Enríquez Negreira was a referee in La Liga (Primera Division) from 1979 to 1992. After his retirement, he became a director at the Catalan College of Referees. At the time when he received payments from Barcelona from 2016-2018, he was the vice president under Victoriano Sánchez Arminio of the Technical Committee of Referees.

Joan Laporta
Facing a tricky future: Cub president Joan Laporta laid Barcelona's problems at a press conference AFP / Pau BARRENA