Barcelona should be on the cusp of celebrating their first LaLiga title since 2019, with an 11-point lead and nine games left to play. Instead, the focus has shifted off the pitch. In March, a court launched an investigation into payments totaling over €7 million that the club made to companies owned by the former vice president of the refereeing committee, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, between 2001 and 2018.
Barcelona claims that the payments were made transparently and for legitimate services, with Negreira’s businesses providing the club with scouting reports and technical information on refereeing. However, Spanish prosecutors are alleging that Barcelona was attempting to influence match results by purchasing favor from match officials – a claim the club strongly denies.
Who Is Negreira?
Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who is now 77 years old, was a referee in LaLiga from 1977 to 1992. He later became the vice president of the refereeing committee in Spain, during which time his companies – primarily DASNIL 95 SL – received over €7 million from Barcelona. DASNIL 95 SL is registered in Spain as a company that sells advertising, printing, and sports videos for marketing purposes. Negreira’s relationship with the club ended in 2018, which was the same year that he left his post on the committee.
The scandal first surfaced on February 15, following an investigation by the Spanish tax office, revealing that Negreira’s companies had received nearly €1.4 million from Barcelona between 2016 and 2018. Over the following days, the full extent of the earnings from Barcelona came to light.
Before the inquiry became public, Negreira informed tax authorities that Barcelona had requested “neutral” treatment. However, he has not spoken since then, reportedly due to his early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Charges That Barcelona Are Facing
In March, prosecutors in Spain charged Barcelona with sporting corruption, corruption in business, false administration, and falsification of commercial documents. This was the first time that Barcelona was accused of buying the favor of referees in black and white. According to the prosecutors’ report, a copy of which was sent to ESPN, the club, former presidents Josep Maria Bartomeu and Sandro Rosell, and several former executives had an agreement with Negreira to “carry out actions aimed at favoring Barcelona in the decision-making of the referees in the matches played by the club, and thus in the results of the competitions.”
A judge has since agreed to investigate the case, with LaLiga, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), and Real Madrid among the institutions that joined the prosecutors’ complaint.
There’s No Denying It
Barcelona does not deny that they paid over €7m to Negreira’s companies under the four different presidents — Joan Gaspart (2000-2003), Laporta (2003-2010), Rosell (2010-2014) and Bartomeu (2014-2020). However, they vehemently refute that the money was spent to gain a sporting advantage. To support their claim, Laporta, who was reelected as president in 2021, presented over 600 reports and 43 CDs on referees and players that were compiled by Negreira’s son, Javier Enriquez Romero.
These documents were from the period 2014-2018, and Laporta said they were thorough, necessary, and put together by reputable people. Laporta’s appearance mainly served as an opportunity to portray Barcelona as the victim of the “fiercest” attack on the club ever. He criticized Tebas and Madrid, and he stated that the club had filed 20 lawsuits against journalists for defamation. He also suggested that Barcelona could be owed “an astronomical amount of compensation” as a result of the damage caused to their reputation and did not rule out further legal action.
What’s Going To Happen to LaLiga’s Best?
Depending on the outcome of the court’s investigation, Barcelona (Barca) may face a significant fine, and former presidents, executives, and Negreira could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the corruption charges against them. However, court sources declined to speculate on the amount of the fine because this is an unprecedented case in Spain.
At present, there are unlikely to be any sporting repercussions for Barca until the judge reaches a decision. According to a new sports law in Spain, events that occurred more than three years ago are exempt from punishment due to the timeframe. LaLiga President Tebas has already confirmed that the league’s hands are tied in this regard.