UEFA to investigate Barcelona for referee payments
Barcelona face a new legal threat from UEFA, including a possible Champions League ban because they pay millions of dollars to a company linked to a Spanish refereeing official.
The European football body asked Thursday for an investigation into the matter, which is already being pursued by prosecutors in Spain.
Champions League regulations in effect since 2007, allow for clubs to be removed from European competitions if they were involved in fixing matches. Further disciplinary sanctions can follow.
UEFA said Thursday it asked disciplinary inspectors to "conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA's legal framework by FC Barcelona in connection with the so-called 'Caso Negreira'."
Court documents show Barcelona paid EU7.3 million ($7.7 million) from 2001-18 to the company of Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice-president of Spanish football'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 have a 12-point lead in the Spanish league and are almost certain to qualify for next season's Champions League -- an entry that would pay tens of millions of dollars to Barcelona, who posted record losses last year.
The burden of proof for UEFA is stated in regulations for the Champions League and other club competitions.