Joan Laporta, current president of FC Barcelona. (Reuters)
Soccer Club Barcelona is not going through its best moment. Sportingly, yes, since they appear first in the league table and are in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. But in the offices, the Catalan team suffers one of its biggest institutional and reputational crises due to the ‘Negreira case’, an alleged corruption plot that affects the arbitration group and casts serious doubts on the honesty of the Spanish competition.
Everything was uncovered on February 15, when a Spanish radio station, Cadena SER, published that Barça had paid 1.4 million euros between 2016 and 2018 to a company that belonged to José María Enríquez Negreira, at that time. Vice President of the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA) of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Negreira held the position from 1994 to 2018.
These are the keys to the case:
Initially, the Blaugrana club admits the payments to Negreira’s company and argues that the arbitration vice president was hired to ensure the “neutrality” of the group in the matches in which Barcelona played. In theory, Negreira verbally advised the Catalan club on how each referee behaved on the pitch, so that the players had a technical vision of the referee who had been lucky in each match.
Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira in a file image.
Negreira’s son, Javier Enríquez Romero, also participated in this advice. Another media outlet, Libertad Digital, published several of those alleged technical reports made by Negreira, found at the home of a deceased Barcelona manager. These reports are barely two pages long and are quite bland, unprofessional, and riddled with misspellings.
As the investigation progresses, it is discovered that Barcelona has been paying Negreira for at least 17 years, between 2001 and 2018, and that the amount received by the vice president of the arbitration group amounts to 7.3 million euros. The case affects three presidents of the club: Joan Laporta, Sandro Rosell and Josep María Bartomeu. Barcelona stopped paying Negreira in 2018, when he ceased to be vice-president of the referees and, therefore, he ceased to have command and a place among the arbitration team.
It is the Tax Agency who discovers the cake in July 2019 when analyzing the tax returns that the Barcelona Football Club had submitted between 2015 and 2018. Then some strange payments to two companies appear: Dasnil 95 and Nisdal. The two companies belonged to Enríquez Negreira.
Barcelona stopped paying Negreira in 2018, when he ceased to be vice president of the Spanish referees and, therefore, ceased to have command in the square
As they were advisory jobs, the Treasury asks the club to give it information about them: invoices, who had carried them out, even the reports themselves. Barça responds that they cannot find the documentation and the Tax Agency understands that tax crimes could have been committed in corporate tax and VAT. Barcelona wanted to deduct nearly 900,000 euros for these non-existent jobs. The case then goes to the Prosecutor’s Office in May 2022.
After ceasing to be hired by Barcelona, after 17 years of payments, Negreira threatened Barcelona with a burofax, a letter that was revealed by the newspaper El Mundo: “I do not have the will to publicize all the irregularities that I have known and experienced first-hand in relation to anyone from the Club, but you will force me to do so if you do not reconsider your decision and comply with the agreement we had to continue counting on my services until the end of the presidential term”. The letter, which is a threat, is addressed to the president of Barça at the time, Josep María Bartomeu.
Two of the former presidents of Barcelona dotted with payments to Negreira, Sandro Rosell and Josep María Bartomeu.
On Friday, March 10, the Prosecutor’s Office formally denounces Negreira and several Barça executives, including former presidents Rosell (2010-2014) and Bartomeu (2014-2020) and the club itself, for a continued crime of corruption in business, in its modality of sports fraud, another of unfair administration, and another of false commercial documents. In short, the Prosecutor’s Office accuses Barça of buying Negreira to favor him in the arbitrations.
Also appearing in the complaint are Óscar Grau Gomar, former executive director (CEO) with Bartomeu; and Albert Soler Sicilia, former director of Professional Sports at the club also with Bartomeu. The Prosecutor’s Office has requested the testimony, in this case as witnesses, of two other former Barça presidents under whose mandate payments were made: Joan Gaspart (2000-2003) and Joan Laporta (2003-2010).
The Prosecutor’s Office has denounced the Fútbol Club Barcelona itself for a continuous crime of corruption in business, in the form of sports fraud, another of unfair administration, and another of false commercial documents
The former coaches Ernesto Valverde and Luis Enrique must also testify as witnesses. There are other witnesses already cited: Javier Enríquez Romero, Negreira’s son; Pere Lluis Mellado, director of the Barça Legal Area; Carles Tusquets, former president of the club’s manager; José Segura, manager of Barcelona; Beatriz Huerta, Inspector of the Treasury; Concepción Díaz, Negreira’s secretary; and José Martínez Alfonso, a worker at one of Negreira’s companies.
The complaint from the Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office includes very forceful statements: “Through the presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep María Bartomeu, Barça reached and maintained a strictly confidential verbal agreement with the accused Enríquez Negreira, so that, in his capacity as vice president, of the Technical Committee of Referees and in exchange for money, carry out actions tending to favor Barcelona in the decision-making of the referees in the matches played by the club, and thus in the results of the competitions”.
The State Attorney General’s Office has considered the case of “special importance” and has ordered that the investigation be assumed by the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the Civil Guard.
The Prosecutor’s Office can only investigate payments that have not expired, that is, between 2014 and 2018. In that period, Negreira received 2.9 million. The companies of the arbitration vice-president “were almost entirely fed by the income from FC Barcelona. The complaint admits that “the destination is unknown” of the cash withdrawn with bearer checks.
A fan holds a fake bill with the image of Joan Laporta in the preview of the Cup match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. (AP)
The Tax Agency is now investigating how José María Enríquez Negreira used part of the more than seven million euros he received from FC Barcelona. The Treasury inspectors have focused on their continuous cash withdrawals and are asking to investigate the destination of those bills, in case they were used to pay bribes to third parties. Between 2016 and 2019 alone, Negreira withdrew more than 550,000 euros in cash from his personal account and from the one controlled by one of his companies. There is no clue as to the whereabouts of those funds.
The complaint by the Prosecutor’s Office has fallen to the Investigating Court number 1 of Barcelona because in this same court a previous complaint had already been filed by one of the Spanish referees who directed matches in the first division under the mandate of Negreira: Xavier Estrada Fernández, collegiate between 2009 and 2022. The court has already admitted the two complaints for processing.
Currently, Estrada Fernández belongs to the video arbitration (VAR) collegiate team. He filed a criminal complaint against José María Enríquez Negreira and his son, Javier Enríquez Romero, on February 23 in the Investigating Court number 1 of Barcelona, for this reason the Prosecutor’s Office has also filed his complaint in this court, so that they are all united under the same judge.
On the other hand, Real Madrid, Barcelona’s main sports rival, has decided to appear in the case as harmed by the severity of the crisis. This was announced this Sunday the 12th in a statement: “Real Madrid expresses its deep concern about the seriousness of the events and reiterates its full confidence in the action of justice and has agreed that, in defense of its legitimate interests, it will appear in the procedure as soon as the judge opens it to the injured parties”. His incarnation has already been accepted.
The president of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez. (Reuters)
For its part, the Professional Soccer League, which organizes the competition in Spain, will also appear in the case as a private prosecution. This was revealed a few days ago by its president, Javier Tebas. The Government of Spain, through the Higher Sports Council, has also announced that it is considering appearing if the proceedings of the Prosecutor’s Office prove that crimes were committed. Another body that has announced its appearance is the Spanish Football Federation.
UEFA has also requested documentation on the case from the League and the Spanish Football Federation. Although the complaint by the Prosecutor’s Office is in its initial phase, if the seriousness of the accusations were demonstrated, the head of European football could seriously penalize Barcelona, not only with economic fines, but with the loss of titles won and in the worst case of cases with downgrading. The possibility of excluding the Catalan club from European competitions next season is also on the table.
For his part, the current president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has reacted to the complaints by assuring that “Barça is innocent of what they are accused of and the victim of a campaign against their honor”. Laporta pointed out that the club will prove his innocence and that “many will have to rectify”.
Laporta launched one last statement this Friday the 17th to the fans of Barça through social networks: “The campaign we are suffering is no coincidence and its objective is to destabilize the team in the short term and in the medium term to control and stay with Barça. I will have time to explain to you who, why and how they want to orchestrate this campaign”, he pointed out.
A few days ago, the judge in charge of the investigation reported a strange robbery at her home when the magistrate was inside her home, a ground-floor house located in a municipality on the outskirts of Barcelona. Despite this, she did not suffer any personal injury. The thieves took cash, jewelry and various belongings. It is being investigated whether they also took documentation or electronic devices in which the judge could keep files related to her work.
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