Athletic Bilbao fans threw fake bank notes onto the pitch inside the San Mamés Stadium to signal their displeasure with the alleged payment scandal surrounding La Liga rival Barcelona.
The two teams faced each other in the league on Sunday, two days after Barcelona had been charged by prosecutors with “continued corruption between individuals,” in addition to other charges.
Raphinha scored the only goal of the match as Barcelona won 1-0 and moved nine points clear at the top of La Liga, though the ongoing payment scandal has continued to engulf the club off the field with a number of former officials, including ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, also charged.
The Barcelona’s Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating the soccer club over allegations it made $1.5 million in payments during a three-year period to a company owned by a then-leading official with Spain’s referee committee, the CTA.
A Barcelona source told CNN on Friday that the club did not have an official statement. Its first reaction was that the charges were to be expected after recent events and that the club would assist the investigation in any way possible.
The source also strongly denied that the club had at any time bribed a referee or tried to influence refereeing decisions.
Spanish lawyer Jose Maria Fuster Fabra, representing Bartomeu in this case, told CNN: “We are preparing the defense and we don’t think this case will go to trial.”
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the accused held positions of power in the club and were aware of payments invoiced annually from January 2011 until June 2018 to two companies that Enríquez Negreira, a former vice president of the CTA and leading refereeing official in Spain, founded, which “acted on behalf and in direct benefit to Barcelona.”
CNN has contacted Negreira’s company for comment.
Responding to the hostile reception from Bilbao fans during Sunday’s game, Barcelona manager Xavi told reporters: “I respect the fans in the San Mamés, they’ve always treated me very well.
“This hostile environment towards Barcelona from the San Mamés surprises me, truthfully, and it saddens me because they’ve always treated us very well. To judge ahead of time isn’t good for society.”
Brazilian Raphinha was initially flagged offside for his goal but a VAR review overturned the decision to give Barcelona the advantage just before halftime.
Bilbao pushed for an equalizer throughout the second half and looked to have got it when Iñaki Williams fired the ball into the net, only for VAR to once again come to Barcelona’s rescue and rule out the goal for a handball in the buildup.
There was more drama to come in stoppage time as Jules Koundé and Marcos Alonso both produced superb blocks in quick succession to deny Bilbao a late goal.
Barcelona faces fierce rival Real Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday in its next fixture.
An El Clásico victory would cement the club’s position at the top of La Liga as off the field issues continue to cast a shadow over the season.
CNN’s Ben Morse, Patrick Sung, Al Goodman and Matias Grez contributed to reporting