Spanish judiciary files charges against FC Barcelona for corruption

by Lorraine Williamson
FC Barcelona

The indictment that the Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office will soon file in court over Barça’s millions paid to former referee José María Enríquez Negreira is, among other things, against FC Barcelona as a legal entity. 

Judicial sources have confirmed this to EL PAÍS. The prosecution will charge FC Barcelona with corporate corruption, a crime that came into force with the 2010 criminal justice reform and includes fraud in the field of sport.  

The complaint sets out the conclusions drawn by agents of the national police force during the investigation, which will now come into the hands of a Barcelona judge.  

After almost a year of investigation, the complaint also includes former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, members of his management team responsible for the payments and Negreira. The referee received almost seven million euros from Barça through a company until 2018. This would be for alleged verbal advice, the veracity of which has been questioned.  

Investigation into FC Barcelona started in 2022 

The prosecutor’s investigation, which began in May 2022 over alleged tax irregularities committed by Negreira’s company, was rushed to a close a few weeks ago.  

The complaint filed with the court by a VAR referee forced – as required by law – a halt to the investigation. That was already at an advanced stage at the time. Yet it had failed to clarify the central question: why Barça paid out huge sums to pay the then vice-president of the Technical Commission of Referees (CTA).  

Neutral referees 

In his statement to the tax office, the former referee said the club paid him because they wanted “neutral” referees and to “make sure no decisions were made against them” during matches. However, when called to testify as an investigator for the prosecution, he invoked his right not to testify because he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. 

According to the prosecution, the payments took place at least from 2001and until July 2018, when Bartomeu’s team put an end to these practices. This led to protests from Negreira, who threatened to sue “all Barça presidents” who had kept the alleged business relationship alive. They are Joan Gaspart (2000-2003), Joan Laporta (2003-2010), Sandro Rosell (2010-2014) and Bartomeu (2014-2020). Negreira’s company Dasnil saw its revenues plummet since then: Barça was practically his only client and his livelihood. 

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Seven million  

The prosecution believes there are indications that the club was guilty of business corruption. The top club paid seven million euros to Negreira during the time he was vice-president of the Technical Arbitration Committee (CTA), the collective’s governing body. While the CTA does not decide which referee will referee each match, it does have the power to decide on the promotion and demotion of referees.  

Cash  

The investigation focuses on the amounts of money Negreira withdrew in cash from banks. The ultimate destination of this money is unknown; for example, it has not been established that his real estate or other assets increased significantly. Barça also paid other sums to the former referee’s son, Javier Enríquez, for referee reports. Documentary evidence of which exists. The payments were made through a company belonging to former club president Josep Contreras (now deceased), who in return received commissions of up to 50% of the amounts paid to the sports coach. 

What is the penalty for corruption? 

The offence of corruption in business – the term corruption between private individuals, from 2010, was amended in 2015 – provides for a penalty of six months to four years’ imprisonment, as well as disqualification and payment of a fine. The article contains a section (286.4) that explicitly refers to sports competitions, and punishes “directors, managers, employees or collaborators of a sports entity” (in this case, Barça) and also “sportsmen, referees or judges” (Negreira) who try to “deliberately and fraudulently predetermine or alter the result of an event, competition or sporting contest of special economic or sporting interest”. 

Paradox 

All indications are that the operation started back in the 1990s, during the presidency of the late Josep Lluís Núñez. However, the crime attributed to the club can only extend to 2010 at the latest, as the penal code did not provide for it before then. FC Barcelona as a legal entity was already convicted in 2016, when it accepted that it had committed two tax violations in signing Neymar and agreed to pay a €5.5 million fine. 

The complaint also includes individuals, for example Bartomeu, as well as members of his management team, among them, as confirmed by prosecution sources, the former executive director, Óscar Grau. Apart from corruption, they are accused of dishonest governance, having allegedly used members’ money for illegal purposes. 

The paradox is that although it was this team that broke the deal with Negreira, it is this team that will assume the criminal consequences of the case. During the time of Núñez (or Gaspart), successive boards of the club have maintained the payouts. The current president, Joan Laporta, even increased the amount significantly. However, none of these presidents will be investigated in the criminal case because the facts are old and already time-barred, the same sources said. 

Following the filing of the complaint, which is currently being finalised and expected to be formalised next Wednesday, a Barcelona court will have to decide whether it will be admitted for hearing. This almost always happens when the complaint comes from the public prosecutor’s office. One option is for the case to end up at the head of Barcelona’s No 1 investigating court, Joaquín Aguirre, who has already opened proceedings for the complaint by VAR referee Estrada Fernández. However, the complaint is only against the Negreira family (father and son) and has not yet been processed. 

UEFA has ‘no comment’ 

Asked about the prosecution’s impending complaint, UEFA said in a statement that it had ‘no comment’. Both UEFA and FIFA consider articles punishing such practices in their disciplinary codes, regardless of the fact that state regulation (sports law) cannot intervene, as the statute of limitations for very serious offences is three years and Barça’s last payments date from 2018. 

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