FC Barcelona president under investigation for alleged referee payments
Joan Laporta faces charges of bribery in Negreira case
FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta is now under investigation by a court in the Catalan capital for allegedly making payments to referees in what is known as the 'Negreira' case.
Laporta is facing charges of bribery in sports corruption, unlawful administration and falsification of documents.
The judge will also investigate all Barça board members during Laporta’s mandate and anyone in the club's organization who may have been involved in the decision-making process of sending payments to José María Enríquez Negreira, the former vice president of the Referees Technical Committee in Spanish football.
Former Barça presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, as well as the club itself as an institution, are also being investigated in the case.
The Barça club is being investigated by a court over potential continuous corruption charges brought forward by prosecutors who believe the club paid to have "actions tending to favor" of them in matches and competitions.
The Catalan giants paid various companies belonging to Negreira sums of over €7 million between 2001 and 2018. The payments came to light in an investigation when Spain’s tax authorities looked into payments between 2016 and 2018 that were unaccounted for.
The fact that the corruption charges made are 'continuous' as opposed to a one-off event mean that the potential penalties could be even larger.
Club officials say the payments were for information reports on referees who would officiate Barça matches, while Joan Laporta has also said they were for reports on youth players across Spain.
Laporta gave a lengthy press conference in April where he took questions from journalists for two hours after explaining the club's side of the payments to Negreira, denying all wrongdoing.
Listen to our Filling the Sink podcast episode published on April 29, 2023 to learn more about it.
Many outside observers are not convinced that the size of the payments involved corresponds to the works carried out. Barcelona president Joan Laporta has promised to clear the club's name in a press conference, but more than a month after the first published reports of the payments came to light, that press conference has not yet taken place.
Laporta has filed numerous complaints against journalists for publishing information related to the ongoing legal case, as the president intends to defend the honor of the club. "This campaign has the objective of destabilizing the team in the short term, and in the medium term, controlling Barça," Laporta said. "There will be a time, and I'm looking forward to it, to explain to you who, why, and how they are orchestrating this campaign."
Enríquez Negreira himself told an investigation by Spain’s tax agency that the payments to him were for “technical guidance” aimed at ensuring that “refereeing decisions weren’t going to go against them, that is to say, that there would be complete neutrality.”
In their written document, prosecutors accuse Barça of having "reached and maintained a strictly confidential verbal agreement with Negreira, so that, in his capacity as vice president of the Referees Technical Committee and in exchange for money, he would carry out actions tending to favor FC Barcelona in the decision-making of the referees in matches that the club played, and thus in the results of competitions."
Real Madrid are putting themselves forward as private prosecutors in the case, arguing that they were victims of Barça's alleged wrongdoing, as will the Spanish Football Federation and a group of Barça supporters.