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Barcelona under investigation for suspected bribery in refereeing case

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Spanish soccer club Barcelona are under investigation for suspected “active bribery” as part of a probe into suspected corruption spanning two decades at the refereeing committee, according to a court document seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Police also searched the offices of the football federation RFEF in Madrid on Thursday, the Barcelona court said, as part of the ongoing inquiry 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 chief Luis Rubiales.

Rubiales kissed 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 the club may have benefited from graft.

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In March, prosecutors filed a complaint over alleged payments of more than 7.3 million euros ($7.8 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 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 so far of Negreira paying referees to influence match results, Aguirre said in early September.

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-Reuters

 

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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