BARCELONA - Police on Thursday raided Spain's football refereeing headquarters as part of a probe into claims FC Barcelona paid for favourable decisions in a fresh blow for Spain's scandal-hit football association.
The search was ordered by the judge investigating the so-called Negreira case involving payments allegedly made to a firm owned by a former top refereeing official Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.
Police began the search early on Thursday at the offices of the CTA referees' technical committee located at the RFEF football federation headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid.
A Barcelona court ordered the search "as part of the investigation into the suspect payments made by the Catalan club" to Negreira, a statement said.
Prosecutors suspect that between 2001 and 2018, Barca paid millions of euros to Negreira's company Dasnil 95 to secure favourable refereeing decisions from corrupt officials.
While the club admits making payments to Dasnil, it said the firm was paid to advise it on refereeing matters. It denies all wrongdoing.
Also Thursday, magistrate Joaquin Aguirre said he would investigate the club and several of its former directors for bribery.
The fact that Barcelona paid "one of the CTA's three vice presidents through intermediary companies" is not in dispute, the judge wrote in his decision.
The payments, which lasted about 18 years, grew steadily "from an initial 70,000 euros a year to 700,000 euros" and stopped when Negreira left his position in 2018, he wrote.
"It stands to reason that the payments by FC Barcelona satisfied the club's interests given their duration and annual increase," Aguirre said.
"The payments resulted in refereeing decisions sought by FC Barcelona in such a way that must have involved unfair treatment of other teams and consequently systemic corruption across Spanish refereeing as a whole."
Police investigators were looking into the scope of the graft, he said.
Asked about the latest developments in the case, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said he'd "never" got the impression the club received any preferential treatment.
"I never had the sensation that the referees favoured us, ever," he told reporters at a press conference a day before Barca's Seville clash.
- 'Illegal acts favouring Barca' -
Prosecutors in March opened a corruption investigation over the affair, naming FC Barcelona and four others: Negreira, his son Javier Enriquez, and two of Barcelona's former presidents, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell.
They allege Barca paid more than 7.3 million euros to Negreira who was a vice president at the CTA between 1994 and 2018.
The payments stopped when Negreira left the CTA following a reshuffle at the RFEF.
When the money stopped, Negreira sent a letter to Bartomeu, Barca's president at the time, threatening to reveal information that would "seriously harm the club" if it didn't pay up.
It was clear from the letter that Negreira "was aware that there had been illegal acts that favoured FC Barcelona that were quite serious", the judge said.
The investigation began in spring 2022 when Spain's tax authorities identified irregularities in payments made by Dasnil 95 between 2016 and 2018.
The raid comes as Spain's football federation is struggling to manage a crisis triggered by the World Cup kiss scandal in which its now disgraced former chief Luis Rubiales forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso.