Barcelona President Laporta denies crimes in refereeing scandal

Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona football club, says all payments made to a company owned by a senior refereeing official were transparent and came in exchange for technical reports and not to get any illegal sporting advantage.

A Barcelona court agreed to take on the case last week after prosecutors filed a complaint over what they alleged were payments of 7.3 million euros ($7.95m) from 2001 to 2018 to firms owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.Negreira is a former referee and ex-vice president of the refereeing committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation from 1994 to 2018. Barcelona said they paid him for reports and advice related to refereeing.

“Obviously, referees were not bought, and there was no attempt to influence their decisions,” Laporta said at a news conference on Monday called to discuss the affair at the club’s Camp Nou stadium.

The club “has never done anything with the goal or intention of altering the competition to achieve some type of sporting advantage”, Laporta said.

He also attacked Barca rivals Real Madrid, who have joined the prosecutor’s case against Barcelona. Laporta said Real had always been historically favoured by refereeing. There was no immediate response from Real Madrid.

The allegations of wrongdoing are part of a “smear campaign” against the Catalan side, which is currently top of La Liga, Laporta charged.

“Basically, it is an orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of FC Barcelona,” Laporta said.

The scandal first broke after inspections from the tax office into Negreira’s accounts.

Laporta recalled that Spain’s tax office sent a letter to prosecutors stating that “it has not been able to demonstrate that the payments made to Negreira’s companies could have influenced the referees or the result of any match”.

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