Barcelona corruption charges on refree scam
Barcelona have been charged with corruption over payments made by the club to the then vice-president of the Spanish referees’ committee.
Spain’s public prosecutor has accused the club of maintaining a relationship with Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira in which ‘in exchange for money’ he carried out actions that would ‘lead to Barcelona being favoured in the decision making of the referees’.
The prosecution says €7.3million (£6.46m) was paid by the club to DASNIL and NILSAT, two companies owned by Negreira.
The club could face huge financial penalties, and Negreira, former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu, and former directors Oscar Grau and Albert Soler could face up to four years in jail.
Courts will now decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that Negreira used money paid to him by Barcelona to influence matches in the club’s favour.
Barcelona’s current president Joan Laporta was asked about the scandal earlier this week and said: ‘Barca has never bought referees and Barca has never had any intention of buying referees. Absolutely never. The forcefulness of the facts contradicts those who try to change the story.’
Investigation of corruption charges over refree scandal
The controversy first hit Barcelona last month when an investigation into a firm owned by Negreira revealed a £1.2m payment from the club, during a two-year period until 2018 for ‘technical advice on referees’.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo subsequently reported that payments from Barcelona to Negreira’s company date back to 2001, a period of time that includes Laporta’s first spell as club president. He will now have to give evidence to investigators.
At the time Barcelona issued a statement admitting to having contracted the services of an ‘external’ consultant who provided reports ‘related to professional refereeing in order to complement information required by the coaching staff’, something that it said was ‘common practice in professional football clubs’.
Later El Mundo revealed that when Barcelona stopped paying Enriquez Negreira, lawyers faxed them referencing a relationship that had ‘lasted so many years with so many favours rendered and so many confidences shared’.
A statement from prosecutors read: “Through presidents Rosell and Bartomeu, Barcelona reached and maintained a strictly confidential verbal agreement with the defendant Negreira, so that, in his capacity as vice president of the refereeing committee and in exchange for money, he would carry out actions aimed at favouring Barcelona in the decision making of the referees in the matches played by the club, and thus in the results of the competitions.”
Rosell, Barca president from 2010 to 2014, was replaced by Bartomeu. After six years at the helm of the Catalan club, Bartomeu resigned in 2020, with Joan Laporta eventually elected as his replacement in 2021.
Barcelona’s statement on the issue
Barca say the payments made to Negreira’s company, Dasnil 95 SL, were for “technical reports on refereeing” and argue such services are common at the top end of the game.
Laporta, who could be called as a witness because he was also president from 2003 to 2010, disputed this week that the club had ever bought off officials.
“Barca have never bought referees nor influence,” he said Tuesday. “That was never the intention and that has to be clear. The facts contradict those that are trying to tell a different story.”
Until now, Negreira, who left his role as vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee in 2018, had been the sole focus of the investigation for payments worth €1.4m received from Barca from 2016 to 2018 after they were flagged by the tax office.
However, prosecutors, having reviewed payments made from 2014 to 2018, have now decided to also pursue charges against Rosell, Bartomeu, Grau and Soler.
La Liga chief Javier Tebas has said Barca cannot face any sporting sanctions in Spain because more than three years has passed, but he has promised to revisit the case once the legal proceedings have reached a conclusion.
Both the Spanish Football Federation and LaLiga have also provided information and documents on the case to UEFA, which could yet decide to act depending on the outcome. FIFA could also step in, although world football’s governing body has not yet responded to a request for comment on the latest developments from ESPN.