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FC Barcelona under investigation for alleged payments made to company owned by referee body’s then-VP

<i>Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>FC Barcelona is under investigation by the Barcelona Prosecutor's office.
AFP via Getty Images
Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images
FC Barcelona is under investigation by the Barcelona Prosecutor's office.

By Matias Grez, CNN

The Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office is investigating FC Barcelona over allegations it made $1.5 million in payments over three years to a company owned by a then-leading official with Spain’s referee committee, CTA.

Spanish radio station Cadena SER reported Wednesday that the club made a series of payments to a company owned by José María Enríquez Negreira between 2016 and 2018.

At the time, Enríquez Negreira was serving as the CTA’s vice president.

The CTA is the governing body responsible for deciding which referees and assistants officiate weekly matches in Spain.

FC Barcelona’s final payment was in June 2018, which coincided with Enríquez Negreira’s departure from the CTA, according to Cadena SER.

At that point, former Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Cadena SER he discontinued the payments to reduce costs at the club.

Bartomeu added that payments to the company had been ongoing since at least 2003, the year he first arrived at the club.

Enríquez Negreira explained to Cadena SER that he never favored Barça in any decision or refereeing appointment.

When Cadena SER asked about the investigation into the payments, Enríquez Negreira acknowledged working exclusively for Barcelona.

CNN has reached out to Enríquez Negreira for comment but did not receive a reply.

Barcelona said it was aware of the investigations into the payments in a statement posted on its website.

The football club says in the past it hired an “external consultant” to supply staffers with video reports on youth players from around Spain in addition to “technical reports” on “professional refereeing,” which it said was “common practice” in football.

FC Barcelona says such outsourced services are now performed by someone who works for the football department and it threatened legal action against anyone trying to “tarnish the club’s image with possible insinuations.”

CNN has reached out to Barça for comment.

“It’s no coincidence that this information has come out now, this kind of information, when things are going well [on the pitch],” current club president Joan Laporta told Barça TV.

Javier Tebas, the president of Spain’s top football division LaLiga, said Thursday that fines and/or other sanctions wouldn’t be imposed because five years have passed since Barcelona made its final payment to the company in 2018.

He explained that sanctions have to be imposed within three years of possible irregularities under Spanish law.

Tebas says LaLiga will wait for the outcome of the prosecutor’s investigation to move forward.

The Barcelona prosecutor’s office confirmed to CNN that an investigation was underway but said the proceedings were private.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the CTA said Enríquez Negreira “has not been a part of any federation structure since the change of leadership realized after the 2018 elections.”

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) says it has agreed to appear in possible future judicial proceedings.

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