In a turn for the worse, Barcelona have seen the charges in the Negreira case upgraded from corruption to bribery by a judge in Spain ahead of what could be a turbulent period for the Catalan giants.
The Blaugrana found themselves in hot water after their relationship with Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice-president of the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA), was revealed. The Spanish champions were caught paying companies owned by Negreira $7.9M over a 17-year period, raising suspicion of wrongdoing.
Barcelona argue that this was merely for consultation work but the club was charged for "continued corruption between individuals in the sports field" back in March by the Barcelona provincial prosecutor's office. UEFA, meanwhile, opened up its own investigation and maintained that the prospect of expulsion from the Champions League remains possible despite the inclusion of Xavi's team for the 2023-24 season.
Fast forward to today and according to El Debate, Joaquin Aguirre, the Court of Instruction Number One judge overseeing this case, has decided that the money paid to Negreira constitutes a crime. And it does not end there. The judge also believes that the crime of bribery is more befitting in this situation and has charged Barcelona with that.
Bribery is when an individual pays an official or public authority in exchange for a favor. Aguirre argues that Negreira, who "participated in the exercise of public functions" during those 17 years, was paid by the Catalan giants due to the position he held. Since this period began in 2001 and continued until 2018, former Barcelone presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell have also been named in this case, as well as Negreira's son.
This is a worrying development for the Primera Division champions as bribery carries a more serious sentence than the previous charge of continued corruption between individuals in the sports field. Furthermore, the court order explains that it does not even need to be proven that Barcelona adulterated Spain's competitions. Bribery is simply when an official is paid in exchange for a favor — whether that favor is carried out or not is insignificant when determining whether bribery is afoot.
A report requested by the court earlier this month reportedly concluded that the referees under the watch of the CTA during those 17 years were not always unbiased. Furthermore, it states that the former vice-president ran an "irregular operation" and that decisions that would not always lead to impartiality were made.
If this charge goes to trial, Barcelona will be forced to defend themselves in front of a jury of nine figures from the public. If found guilty, the club could get kicked out of the UEFA Champions League for at least a year.
Lewandowski and Co. have already kicked off their 2023-24 European campaign, beating Royal Antwerp 5-0 recently. Xavi's men will resume Champions League action next, traveling to Porto on October 4 for Matchday 2 live on Paramount+ in the USA.