Barcelona and the former club president face corruption charges linked to allegations of improper payments.
FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta said all payments to companies owned by senior referees were transparent and were made in exchange for technical reports, not for any illegal sporting advantage.
The Barcelona court last week agreed to take up the case after prosecutors filed a complaint over what they allege was 7.3 million euros ($7.95 million) in payments to companies owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira between 2001 and 2018.
Negrera served as a former referee and former vice-president of the Spanish Royal Football Federation’s referee committee from 1994 to 2018. Barcelona said they paid him for referee-related reports and advice.
“It’s clear that the referees were not bought and there was no attempt to influence their decisions,” Laporta told a news conference at the club’s Nou Camp stadium on Monday.
Laporta said the club “never did anything with the aim or intention of altering the game to gain some sort of sporting advantage”.
He also attacked Barca’s rivals Real Madrid, who have joined prosecutors in their case against Barcelona. Laporta said Real Madrid have historically been favored by referees. Real Madrid did not immediately respond.
Laporta has accused the allegations of misconduct as part of a “smear campaign” against the Catalan side, who currently top La Liga.
“Basically, it was a calculated campaign to destroy the reputation of FC Barcelona,” Laporta said.
The scandal first erupted after the tax office inspected Negrera’s accounts.
Laporta recalled that Spain’s tax office had written to prosecutors saying “it could not prove that the payments to Negrera’s company could have influenced the referee or the outcome of any match”.
“They couldn’t show it because that was impossible,” Laporta said.
The club, Negrera and the club’s two former presidents, Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, face the same corruption charges.
Spanish football is going through its “worst” moment ever due to a referee corruption case involving Barcelona, according to La Liga president Javier Tebas.
“The reputation of our football is at stake,” he said last month. “I’m ashamed. We didn’t get an explanation from Barcelona.”
Barcelona’s place in the future Champions League could also be at risk after European soccer’s governing body UEFA announced in March that it would also investigate the allegations.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told Slovenian media in early April that the case was “extremely serious”.
“So serious that, in my opinion, this is one of the worst [cases] Ever since I got involved in football, I’ve followed football,” he said.
Barcelona currently sit 11 points clear of Real Madrid in La Liga with nine games to go, with Barcelona legend Xavi moving closer to his first title as a former club coach.