Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been charged with suspected bribery over payments made to companies linked to the former vice president of the refereeing committee, José María Enríquez Negreira, according to Spanish news agency EFE.
The charges relate to Laporta’s first spell in charge of the Catalan club between 2003 and 2010 after a judge ruled the latter years of that tenure should not be time-barred.
Laporta, who returned to the presidency for a second time in 2021, was not initially named as a defendant when charges for alleged bribery were filed against Barça in September.
Former presidents Josep María Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, as well as Negreira and his son, Javier Enríquez Romero, were listed among the accused.
However, the judge in charge of the case ruled on Wednesday that Laporta and his board of directors — from the time the payments were made — should be added to the probe as it is a case of continued bribery.
Therefore, the investigation period can cover the 10-year period prior to the last payment made to Negreira, which was in 2018, making the final two years of Laporta’s first tenure punishable.
Barça paid Negreira’s companies more than €7m ($7.3m) between 2001 and 2018 while he was the vice president of the refereeing committee. He had previously been a referee in the Spanish top flight.
Laporta has said the payments were for “technical reports about referees” and has repeatedly denied the club has ever “bought referees or influence.”
However, prosecutors accused Rosell and Bartomeu of having an agreement with Negreira in which “he would carry out actions aimed at favouring Barca in the decision-making of the referees in the matches played by the club and thus in the results of the competitions.”
Rosell was Barca president from 2010 to 2014 before Bartomeu replaced him. After six years at the helm of the Catalan club, Bartomeu resigned in 2020, with Laporta elected as his replacement in 2021.
Barça were originally charged with alleged corruption in sport, corruption in business, false administration and the falsification of commercial documents in March.
The bribery charges were added in September after the judge said Negreira “exercised public functions” as vice president of the refereeing committee, which equates him to a civil servant.