Barcelona's head coach Xavi Hernandez reacts during the Spanish La...

Barcelona's head coach Xavi Hernandez reacts during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 19, 2023. Credit: AP/Joan Mateu

NYON, Switzerland — Barcelona is facing a new legal threat from UEFA, including a possible Champions League ban, because of its payments of millions of dollars to a company linked to a Spanish refereeing official.

The European soccer body asked Thursday for an investigation into the matter, which is already being pursued by prosecutors in Spain.

Champions League regulations in effect since April 2007 allow UEFA to ban teams from the competition for one season if they were involved in fixing matches.

UEFA said Thursday it asked disciplinary inspectors to “conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA’s legal framework by FC Barcelona in connection with the so-called ‘Caso Negreira.’”

Court documents show Barcelona paid 7.3 million euros ($7.7 million) from 2001-18 to the company of José María Enríquez Negreira, the former vice president of Spanish soccer’s refereeing committee.

Prosecutors in Spain have formally accused Barcelona of corruption in sports, fraudulent management and falsification of business documents. An investigating judge will decide if this will lead to charges.

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

Barcelona's head coach Xavi Hernandez looks out from the bench...

Barcelona's head coach Xavi Hernandez looks out from the bench before the Spanish Copa del Rey semi final, first leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, March 2, 2023. Credit: AP/Manu Fernandez

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.

Any proof of manipulated games in the past 16 years could see UEFA exclude Barcelona from its competitions for one year and prosecute a disciplinary case.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead in the Spanish league and is almost certain to qualify for next season's Champions League — an entry that would pay tens of millions of dollars to a club that posted record losses last year.

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