Spanish soccer giants Barcelona have been charged with suspected bribery for payments made to a former domestic senior refereeing official over a 17-year period.

The charge, issued by Judge Joaquin Aguirre, comes after Spain's public prosecutor's office filed an official complaint against the club in March, alleging that between 2001 and 2018, Barcelona paid €7.3 million ($7.8 million) to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who from 1993 to 2018 was president of the Spanish soccer federation’s (RFEF) refereeing committee.

The claim said Negreira was paid in secret via his Dasnil 95 company to act in favor of Barcelona through “the decision taken by referees … as well as in the results of the competition.”

Spanish news outlets have reported that police searched the referees’ office at the RFEF in Madrid today for documentation in relation to the case.

In Spain, a bribery offense only requires proof that a public official of authority has requested money or some compensation to make an influenced decision within the scope of their powers.

Former Barcelona presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sando Rosell also stand accused of the same charges, as does Negreira’s son, Javier Enriquez Romero.

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Rosell was the club’s president from 2010 to 2014 before Bartomeu replaced him. Bartomeu resigned after six years in 2020 and was succeeded by current president Laporta.

The issue first came to light through initial revelations by the SER Catalunya broadcaster in February and was followed up by the El Pais newspaper.

At the time, the Catalan giants acknowledged the payments but denied wrongdoing, explaining the money was for an external consultant who provided the club with “technical reports related to professional refereeing,” adding it was “a common practice among professional soccer clubs.”

Barcelona’s arch-rivals Real Madrid waded into the issue by officially joining the public prosecutor’s complaint. By joining the case, the club from Spain's capital has access to all relevant information and evidence used by the prosecutors.

Following the revelations, European soccer’s governing body UEFA opened an investigation into the payments, with president Aleksander Ceferin describing it as one of the most serious incidents he has encountered in soccer.

The club was “provisionally admitted to take part” in the top-tier Champions League for the 2023-24 season but UEFA said a “future decision on admission/exclusion” is still possible.

If UEFA concludes that a club has been involved in fixing matches by influencing refereeing decisions, it has the power to remove said club from a European competition. Rules introduced in 2007 allow UEFA to expel the offending club from its tournaments for one season.