During a La Liga match, supporters of Athletic Bilbao protest claims of illicit payments to Barcelona


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Fans of Athletic Bilbao protested the alleged payment scam involving La Liga rival Barcelona by tossing phony currency onto the field at the San Mamés Stadium.

Two days after Barcelona was accused by prosecutors of "continuing corruption amongst persons," among other things, the two teams squared off in a league match on Sunday.

As the ongoing payment controversy has continued to envelop the club off the field, with a number of former executives, including ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, being indicted, Raphinha's goal gave Barcelona a 1-0 victory and lifted them nine points clear at the top of La Liga.

The Barcelona prosecutor's office has been looking into claims that the soccer team paid $1.5 million over a three-year period to a business held by a senior official with Spain's referee committee, the CTA, at the time.

CNN was informed on Friday by a Barcelona source that the club had not released an official statement. The club's initial response was that the charges were to be expected given previous events and that it would offer any assistance it could to the investigation.

The source vehemently denied that the club ever attempted to influence refereeing decisions or tried to bribe a referee.

In this instance, Bartomeu is being represented by a Spanish attorney named Jose Maria Fuster Fabra, who told CNN: "We are preparing the defense, and we don't anticipate this case will get to trial."

The Prosecutor's Office claims that the defendants were in positions of authority within the club and were aware of payments made annually from January 2011 until June 2018 to two businesses founded by Enriquez Negreira, a former vice president of the CTA and top referee in Spain, that "acted on behalf of and in direct benefit to Barcelona."

Negreira's employer has been approached by CNN for comment.

When asked about the hostile atmosphere created by Bilbao supporters during the game on Sunday, Barcelona manager Xavi responded, "I admire the San Mamés fans; they've always treated me very well."

As they have always treated us extremely nicely, I am honestly surprised and saddened by the San Mamés' unfriendly climate toward Barcelona. A premature judgment is bad for society.

Raphinha, a Brazilian, had his goal initially ruled offside, but a VAR review overturned the ruling to give Barcelona the lead just before halftime.

Iaki Williams appeared to have given Bilbao the equalizer they had been seeking throughout the second half, but VAR once more came to Barcelona's aid and disallowed the goal for a handball in the buildup.

Jules Koundé and Marcos Alonso both made outstanding blocks in quick succession to prevent Bilbao from scoring in stoppage time, adding to the tension.

Barcelona's next match is on Saturday at the Nou Camp against fierce rival Real Madrid.

If off-field problems continue to cast a shadow over the season, a win in the El Clásico would solidify the club's position atop La Liga.

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