Real Madrid to take action against Barcelona over payments
Real Madrid will side against Barcelona in the legal proceedings that the rival is facing over its payments of millions of euros over several years to a company that belonged to the vice president of Spain's soccer refereeing committee, Madrid said Sunday after an urgent board meeting.
The decision came two days after prosecutors formally accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management and falsification of mercantile documentation. An investigating judge will decide whether the accusations should lead to charges.
"Real Madrid wishes to express its utmost concern regarding the gravity of the facts and reiterates its confidence in the legal system," Madrid said in a statement after the board meeting. "The club has agreed that, in defense of its legitimate rights, it will appear at the trial when the judge opens it up to the affected parties."
It was the first time Madrid officially weighed in on the matter. Other clubs had already expressed their concerns over the Barcelona payments, as did the Spanish league and the Spanish soccer federation. The league also planned to take action against Barcelona in the legal proceedings.
Atletico Madrid was among the teams to complain about Barcelona's links to the refereeing committee official.
"We hope that this is solved so we can all understand what happened and compete under the same set of rules," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said Sunday.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said fans should remain "calm."
"Barça is innocent of the accusations made against it and is the victim of a campaign, that now involves everyone, to harm its honorability," Laporta said on Twitter. "It is no surprise, and we will defend Barça and prove that the Club is innocent. Many will be forced to rectify."
Laporta himself was not among those accused by prosecutors on Friday.
Barcelona has been under scrutiny since the payments to the committee official became public last month. The payments were initially investigated as part of a tax probe into the company.
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.
Prosecutors said in court documents seen by The Associated Press that the payments by the club added up to 7.3 million euros ($7.7 million) from 2001-18. They added that this "quantity was not justified because it was not foreseen in the statutes of the club nor approved by its general assembly (of club members)."
Prosecutors alleged that the former vice president of the committee, José María Enríquez Negreira, "in exchange for money, was to carry out acts tending to favor Barcelona football club in the decision-making process of referees in the games played by Barcelona, and in the results of the competitions."
There is so far no evidence that referees or game results were actually influenced.