Barcelona Face Champions League BAN Next Season, As UEFA Investigate Payment To Former Referee Official.

Barcelona could be banned from the UEFA Champions League over a payment they made to companies linked to a Spanish refereeing official.

European football’s governing body UEFA said on Thursday it was officially launching an investigation into claims Barcelona paid for favourable refereeing decisions, which is already being pursued by prosecutors in Spain.

UEFA'S regulations, which have been in effect since April 2007, give the organisation power to ban clubs from the Champions League for one season if they are found to be involved in match fixing.

Court documents show Barcelona paid 7.3 million euros (£6.5 million) from 2001-2018 to two companies owned by former referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, and his DASNIL 95 firm.

Negreira, 77, was the former vice president of Spanish football’s refereeing committee, between 1994 and 2018. He left his vice-chair role in 2018.

No evidence has yet been published that referees or individual games were actually influenced.

The club say they were paying for reports and advice on refereeing but prosecutors have accused the club of seeking to gain favourable decision-making from officials.

Charges were filed earlier this month against the club, Negreira and two former Barcelona presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, among others.

In a statement UEFA said: "In accordance with Article 31(4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, Ethics and disciplinary inspectors have been appointed to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of Uefa's legal framework by FC Barcelona in connection with the so-called 'Caso Negreira'.”

Barcelona maintain that they have done nothing wrong and never earned favour among match officials as a result of the payments made to Negreira – which came during an era in which the club enjoyed considerable domestic and European success.

Joan Laporta, the current Barcelona president, has insisted his club is innocent.

“Let it be clear Barca have never bought referees and Barca have never had the intention of buying referees, absolutely never,” he said.

Head coach Xavi Hernandez, who was a star player for the team during the period when payments were made to Dasnil - said “If I thought we were cheating I'd have gone home."

The case has been accepted into the Spanish courts, with former Barcelona managers Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde expected to be called to testify, in addition to Laporta.

La Liga president Javier Tebas has previously said Barcelona faced no immediate danger because the governing bodies of Spanish, claiming that the club’s current president Joan Laporta must resign should charges be proven.

On the criminal level, the accused could face up to four years in prison.

"The majority of La Liga clubs expressed their deep concern about this case, which they consider to be of the utmost seriousness," a La Liga statement published last month said.

Rivals Real Madrid have also offered to appear in court "in defence of its legitimate right as one of the affected parties.

Barca must wait to discover what the outcome of several cases against them will be, and whether they will subsequently face any action.

They have a 12-point lead in LaLiga and will almost certainly qualify for next season's Champions League, a welcome boost after the club posted record losses last year.

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