Payments from Barça for referees reports being investigated
Catalan club paid at least €1.4 to company of then-referees' committee vice president between 2016-2018
Prosecutors are investigating payments worth around €1.4 million from FC Barcelona to the company belonging to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, who was working as the referees' committee vice president at the time, between 2016-2018.
The information was revealed by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week. Another report from El Mundo alleged that the payments were worth over €6.5 million, dating back to 2001.
Former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Cadena SER that the payments were legitimate and even stretched back over the past two decades, but said that it's "absolutely false and absurd" to think that the club paid for sporting favor.
Current president Joan Laporta emphasized the "normality" of such financial transactions in statements given to club media.
It's said that the Technical Committee of Referees (known by its acronym CTA in Spanish) delivered written and/or DVD reports ahead of each league and domestic cup game to FC Barcelona advising the club on the referee in charge of the game.
The reports would give the club details on the profile and behavior of the match official, and it would then be at the discretion of the club as to if or how the information could be deemed useful.
Enríquez Negreira told an investigation by Spain’s tax agency, Agencia Tributaria, that Barça paid him 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.”
The former referees official explained that he briefed the club on how players should behave toward different referees on the pitch, which could potentially offer the club an advantage in marginal moments.
The club, however, said that the services centered around technical advice on youth players across Spain. They also acknowledged paying for “technical reports relating to professional refereeing,” but described this as “a common practice among professional football clubs.”
Payments to Enríquez Negreira's company, DASNIL, stopped in 2018 – the same year that the refereeing official left his role at the Technical Committee of Referees.
Despite this, there is at the moment no suggestion that the club paid for favorable treatment from referees during matches. Yet, the optics of the arrangement are bad for all parties involved.
What could happen now?
The news has come to light as a result of an investigation into corruption between individuals from Spain's tax office.
Sporting authorities have only learned about the case this week, along with the wider public. The Spanish football federation has launched an inquiry through its integrity department, but it's likely out of their hands until the matter is dealt with by prosecutors first.
Any short-term punishment is highly unlikely.
La Liga president Javier Tebas said that it was "clear" the services "should never have been provided," but has already ruled out the possibility of sanctioning the club retroactively, citing Spain's Sports Law which he says prevents punishment for events that occurred more than three years ago.
However, Tebas also warned that the sporting authorities will wait until the judicial procedure finalizes before any decisions can be made.
Laporta: timing "not a coincidence"
Barça president Joan Laporta was also bullish about the nature of how the reports have come to light this week, insisting that the publication of the news at a time when the team are doing well on the pitch is "not a coincidence."
“The news surprises me, it’s not a coincidence that it’s come out now," he said to club media, published on Barcelona's social media feeds. "I want to communicate that any tendentious interpretation that insinuates things that are not right will receive a proportional and adequate response from the club. So we reserve all the actions we need to defend Barcelona’s honor and its interests."
“I want to make it very clear, culés, it's no coincidence that this information has come out now, information like this when things are going well. It’s not a coincidence.”