Barcelona 'could be banned from Champions League' after being 'charged with suspected bribery'
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A Spanish judge has reportedly charged Barcelona with 'suspected bribery' - and the club could be banned from the Champions League if found guilty.
The Catalan club have been charged with suspected bribery by Judge Joaquin Aguirre, as per Spanish outlet El Debate, over payments made to the former vice-president of the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA), Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, over a 17-year period.
Barcelona are alleged to have paid €7.5 million (€7.9 million) to companies owned by Negreira between 2001 and 2018, including during current chief Joan Laporta's first spell as president.
Barcelona and Laporta have both denied any wrongdoing in the case.
In February, Barca said, as per Reuters, they had paid an external consultant who supplied them with 'technical reports related to professional refereeing', claiming this was a common practice among professional clubs.
In a press conference earlier this year, Laporta called the case a 'gigantic reputational discrediting campaign' against Barca due to 'defamatory insinuations'.
He accused those involved of 'wanting to destroy one of the emblems of Catalonia such as FC Barcelona' and believed that 'Barca would not come out of this harmed'.
Laporta previously said that the payments were for 'technical reports on refereeing' and nothing else.
El Debate also add that former Barca presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, as well as Negreira and his son Javier Enriquez Romero, have also been charged in the case.
Barcelona were charged with 'continued corruption between individuals in the sports field' by the Barcelona provincial prosecutor's office in March.
A statement from prosecutors accused Rosell and Bartomeu of having a 'strictly confidential verbal agreement' with Negreira so 'he would carry out actions aimed at favouring Barcelona in the decision making of the referees in the matches played by the club, and thus in the results of the competitions'.
In July, UEFA confirmed that the club was 'provisionally admitted to participate in the 2023/24 UEFA club competitions', but added: "A future decision on admission/exclusion from UEFA club competitions is reserved."
They also confirmed: "The EDIs in charge of the case are invited to continue and complete their investigation and send a new report to the UEFA Appeal Body if and when they consider that the admission/exclusion of FC Barcelona should be evaluated."
That confirmation suggests that, should Barcelona be found guilty of bribery, UEFA may revisit their decision to allow the club to compete in its competitions, including the Champions League, moving forward.
In a statement to SPORTbible, Barcelona said: "The FCB lawyers already considered the hypothesis that now has been reflected in the court order and have been working since the beginning on all aspects related to this motive."
SPORTbible has attempted to contact Josep Maria Bartomeu for comment. Reuters was unable to reach Negreira for comment.