Barcelona is facing a new legal threat from UEFA, including a possible Champions League ban, following a discovery that the club paid millions of dollars to a company linked to a Spanish refereeing official.
UEFA has requested its own investigation as of Thursday, and the matter is already being pursued by prosecutors in Spain.
The governing body’s Champions League regulations, which have been in effect since 2007, allow the organization to ban teams from the competition for one season if they are found to be involved in match-fixing.
Champions League regulations in effect since April 2007 allow UEFA to ban teams from the competition for one season if they were involved in fixing matches.
Court documents show Barcelona paid 7.3 million euros (£6.4 million) from 2001-18 to the company of Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice president of Spanish soccer’s refereeing committee.
Prosecutors in Spain have formally accused Barcelona of corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of business documents. An investigating judge will decide if this will lead to charges.
No evidence has yet been published that referees or individual games were actually influenced.
Barcelona has consistently denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest, saying it paid for technical reports on referees but never tried to influence their decisions in games.
Any proof of manipulated games in the past 16 years could see UEFA exclude Barcelona from its competitions for one year and prosecute a disciplinary case.
Barcelona has a 12-point lead in the Spanish league and is almost certain to qualify for next season’s Champions League – an entry that would pay tens of millions of dollars to a club that posted record losses last year.
The investigation into the Negreira case is progressing. UEFA has officially joined the investigation after collecting data on the situation with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. They believe that Barcelona may have violated competition rules and have opened a file to investigate. The process of collecting information, hearing allegations, and issuing a ruling can take up to four or five weeks. It’s important to note that this case has nothing to do with the registration of teams in European competitions for next season. UEFA’s involvement in the case is to ensure fair competition.