In the course of an investigation into the payment of millions of euros over many years by Barcelona to a former vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee, Spanish police conducted a search on the football federation’s headquarters on Thursday.
The refereeing committee’s offices at the federation headquarters outside of Madrid were searched, the Guardia Civil confirmed to The Associated Press. Police said they had not made any arrests and were following Judge Joaquin Aguirre’s instructions, who is overseeing the case’s investigation for a court in Barcelona.
Barcelona was officially charged with sports corruption, dishonest administration, and falsifying commercial data by state prosecutors in March. The club allegedly paid retired referee José Mara Enrquez Negreira, who served on the federation’s officiating council from 1994 to 2018, 7.3 million euros (about $7.7 million) between 2001 and 2018.
Also on Thursday, Aguirre officially added a fresh complaint to the investigation, claiming that there are signs that Barcelona and Negreira engaged in bribery. The charge of sports corruption has been replaced with the charge of bribery.
The payments were first looked at as part of a tax investigation into a business owned by Negreira.
Barcelona has denied any misconduct or conflicts of interest, claiming that although it paid for referee technical reports, it never attempted to sway their judgments during games.
Barcelona, Negreira, former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and former Barcelona executives Jordi Grau and Albert Soler are among the targets of the charges.
In Spain, getting reports on referees is customary, and teams may hire outside firms to provide them or create them in-house, like Barcelona does right now. However, it is not common practice to pay a person in charge of Spain’s referees a significant sum of money in exchange for reports.
The searches follow a sexism crisis that shook the organization when its former president kissed a player on the lips during the FIFA Women’s World Cup awards ceremony last month without asking her permission.
In Spain, a preliminary inquiry of a potential crime is conducted by an investigating judge to assess if it should go to trial, which is then presided over by another judge.