April 18 – Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club has never bought referees and has savagely denounced critics for waging a smear campaign after an investigation was opened into payments made to the former vice president of the Spain’s referees committee.
The scandal has dominated the Spanish sporting press in recent weeks but Laporta (pictured) used a two-hour news conference on Monday to defend his and his club’s conduct, attacking La Liga president Javier Tebas for “verbal incontinence” and calling out Real Madrid’s alleged “cynicism” for joining the legal case against their bitter rivals.
Spanish prosecutors have filed an official complaint against Barcelona and two of its ex-presidents, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, over an alleged €7.3 million paid from 2001 to 2018 to a company owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, a former referee and ex-vice president of the Spanish FA’s refereeing committee.
Prosecutors allege that under a secret agreement and “in exchange for money”, Negreira favoured Barcelona in influencing results. UEFA has separately opened its own investigation.
The club have vehemently denied the charges against them and Laporta insisted the money was for services related to scouting and technical reports about refereeing rather than to gain any illegal sporting advantage.
“Barcelona have never acted with the intention of altering or influencing competitions to gain a sporting advantage,” Laporta charged.
“Obviously, referees were not bought, and there was no attempt to influence their decisions. The advice does not constitute any kind of misconduct or criminal offence.”
The allegations of wrongdoing, he declared, are part of a “smear campaign” against Barca, runaway leaders of La Liga. “Basically, it is an orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of FC Barcelona.”
The scandal first broke after inspections from tax authorities into Negreira’s accounts. But Laporta recalled the tax office had 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”.
“They could not show it because it was not possible,” he asserted.
However UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told Slovenian media in early April that the case was “extremely serious”.
“So serious that it is, in my opinion, one of the most serious in football since I have been involved in it,” Ceferin said.
Tebas has claimed that because of the case “the reputation of Spanish football is at stake” but Laporta responded by accusing the La Liga boss of “trying to damage Barcelona’s reputation”.
“The courts have found no proof because there is none. It is the fiercest attack ever against Barcelona and has been done to ruin the club’s reputation and destabilise us.”
“We are witnessing a public trial in which certain people are trying to harm those of us who have not bowed to their demands and wills – this is intolerable. I would like to single out, in particular, Tebas, who has acted irresponsibly and unprofessionally. With his constant statements, he has fuelled the controversy and even provided false documentation to prosecutors.
“I would ask him to curb his verbal incontinence because it does no favours to the institution he represents.
“The timing is no coincidence, just as Barca are coming out of financial crisis, having rejected LaLiga’s CVC agreement and being part of the European Super League.”
“We are taking legal action and have already filed 20 lawsuits against journalists and people for defamation. We believe we could be due an astronomical amount in compensation for damages.”
Laporta also launched a stinging attack on Real Madrid, one of Barca’s two remaining partners in attempts to get the Super League project off the ground.
“Real Madrid is a club that has been historically favoured by refereeing decisions; a club that has been considered as the team of the regime [in Spain],” he alleged.
“It is worth remembering that, for seven decades, most of the presidents of the refereeing committee have been ex-members, ex-players or ex-directors of Real Madrid.
“For 70 years, the people who were there to dispense justice on the field of play have been people connected to Real Madrid. For them to claim they feel wronged is an unprecedented exercise in cynicism.”
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