Last month, Barcelona secured their 27th domestic League title. However the club is still plagued by accusations of referee corruption.
FC Barcelona is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Spanish public prosecutor’s office for alleged referee payments. The European football’s governing body, UEFA, has also announced that they will be conducting an investigation of their own, with the UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin, stating that “the Negreira case is one of the most serious cases I have seen in football”.
The allegations stem from payments made by the club to the former vice president of the referee committee of Spanish football, José María Enríquez Negreira. between 2001 and 2018. These payments were discovered through an inspection by Spanish tax authorities into a company named DASNIL 95, owned by Negreira and his son, Javier Enríquez. Between 2001 and 2018, the club made payments totaling 7,3 million euros.
The investigation conducted by the Spanish prosecutor’s office has also charged the club with malfeasance and false documentation. Javier Enríquez Negreira is also facing charges. In addition, charges are also filed against former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep María Bartomeu.
Prosecutors started the investigation after Spain’s tax authorities noticed several tax irregularities within DASNIL 95. As tax inspectors investigated further, they found that FC Barcelona was DASNIL 95’s only client, which raised the authorities’ eyebrows. Thus, on April 28th last year, the case was passed on to the prosecutor’s office.
What do we know?
The report from the prosecutors was finalized on March 10 this year. The report concluded that 59 payments (7,3 million euros in total) were made by Barcelona to DASNIL 95 between January 2014 and June 2018.
José María Negreira denies that the payments were received in exchange for favorable refereeing decisions in matches. Per the report, Negreira reveals that he only acted as an external consultant for Barcelona. Examples of his consultancy with Barça are the following:
- Employ a PR assistant, tasked with improving the club’s relationship with the Spanish Football Association
- Send a representative to every farewell event for retiring referees
- Shared knowledge on which type of red cards had a higher chance of getting overturned
- Convey an official notice to the FA or the refereeing committee every time a Barcelona representative planned to visit their facilities
The official report revealed that 54 of the 59 payments Barcelona made were in exchange for “guidance on technical videos”. The remaining five payments were made in exchange for recordings of international matches. The report specifies that Barcelona received an analysis of matches from the 2014 World Cup, 2016 Euros, and 2018 World Cup, and matches of Spanish teams in European competitions.
It is unclear why these services would be useful to Barcelona. The report outlines a payment made in June 2017, where Barcelona paid 90.000 euros for recordings of matches of the Spanish national team.
A report leak, seen by The Athletic also stated that Negreira withdrew 550.000 euros in cash from his companies between 2016-2019. Per the report, Negreira never personally withdrew any money himself. He would instead send two company employees to withdraw the money. The prosecutors were not able to trace the final destination of those 550.000 euros.
Barcelona claim fabrication
Barcelona has also maintained its innocence throughout the case. Barcelona’s President claimed in a press conference last week that the allegations are an attempt to destabilize the club. “The campaign against us is not a coincidence, you all know that. It is an attempt to destabilize the team in the short term, to control the club in the medium term, and to eventually take over the club”, Barcelona President Joan Laporta stated.
“The time will come, when I will explain to you who, why, and how they are orchestrating this campaign. Let there be no doubt that we will defend ourselves, and not only that, we will attack”, Laporta concluded.
Will Barcelona face sanctions?
La Liga president Javier Tebas has confirmed that Barcelona will not face sanctions from LaLiga regardless of the outcome of the legal process. According to LaLiga rules, sanctions can only be applied within a three-year window after the events have taken place. As Barcelona stopped their payments in 2018, LaLiga’s bylaws will not allow the governing body to apply penalties of any kind.
The governing body of Spanish football has confirmed that they will be unable to apply punishments. The legal process is still ongoing, but the tax or prosecution authorities have so far found no clear evidence of corruption. UEFA has also started an investigation of its own.
The Court of public opinion
This is not the first time in the world of European football that a club is the subject of an investigation regarding corruption. We can simply look at the case of Juventus, an Italian club that was relegated back in 2006 due to the “Calciopoli” scandal. A few weeks ago they were deducted 10 points from the current Serie A as a result of the capital gains case.
Barcelona has also had its fair share of scandals in the past with presidents Gaspart, Rosell, and more recently Bartomeu. Even though the clubs has not received an official reprimand by Spanish authorities on the Negreira case, the opinion of the public both fans and other teams is something that will always affect such a big team like Barça.
Recently, Real Betis Vice President, José Miguel López Catalán, called the Negreira case “the biggest scandal in the history of Spanish football”. This goes to show that the majority of the clubs in LaLiga possibly feel cheated and are awaiting the Catalans to be made an example of.
López Catalán also went on to say that “We consider it quite likely that they (UEFA) can sanction Barça for a year without playing in European competitions.”
These statements add to the current general discontent with refereeing in Spain and the unwillingness of President Javier Tebas to change the situation.
Will teams look to strip Barcelona of past glories due to this case? Probably not, because if there is one thing that all Barça fans can recall of the period being called into question is that the Catalans played total football and absolutely dominated the Spanish scene.