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Barcelona and the referees: a scandal and five mysteries

Spanish football is still looking for answers that justify Barça’s onerous relationship with the former vice president of referees.

Spanish football is still looking for answers that justify Barça’s onerous relationship with the former vice president of referees.

The impact of the news we brought to you, initially released by Cadena SER, with the contribution of documentation proving that FC Barcelona paid almost 1.4 million euros (c. $1.5m) to the company DASNIL 95 SL during the years 2016, 2017, and 2018, a company whose sole shareholder was José María Enríquez Negreira, a former referee and then vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees, has turned Spanish football upside down.

Beyond the legality of the contracts and the exorbitant market price paid for “technical advice”, the problem is that the image of Barcelona has been called into question once again and neither the club nor the referees committee has been able to give a coherent explanation. There are still many mysteries to be solved.

Five big questions behind the Barcelona-Negreira scandal

1. When did FC Barcelona’s payments to DASNIL 95 SL begin?

The great mystery of this mess is knowing when this commercial relationship with the referee vice president’s company began. Let’s start at the end.

It is known that the relationship ended in May 2018, and the last invoice was issued in June of that year. This is certified by the Tax Agency and by Josep Maria Bartomeu himself, who has admitted to this newspaper that in 2018, in the face of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, he decided to cut costs in all areas of the club.

One of those canceled in the football area was the one that referred to payments for technical advice. Coincidentally, at that time Enríquez Negreira stopped being vice president of the CTA. Bartomeu has also made it clear that these contracts were already in place in 2003 when Laporta’s first board entered. In other words, it would go back to the time of Joan Gaspart, who insists that he does not “know” of having hired those services.

2. Why was Barça’s referee advice payment so disproportionate?

Through the documentation in the possession of this newspaper, the Tax Agency specifies that in 2016, DASNIL 95 received €532,728.02 for consultation, a figure that increased the following year to €541,752 and then sharply decreased in 2018 to €318,200. This averages out to €464,226 per year. The salary of the Prime Minister of Spain, as a reference, is €90,000.

This newspaper consulted with various LaLiga clubs, and all sports officials who admit to having referee analysts on their staff (always retired referees, not CTA officials) consider that amount to be exorbitant. Furthermore, FC Barcelona itself admits that its current referee analyst, who is integrated into the sports department, Ramon Segura, earns €25,000 per year for providing reports for the first team and the reserve team.

3. Could criminal charges be brought against FC Barcelona?

Reports revealed yesterday that the amounts paid during the years not investigated by the Tax Agency could be astronomical. In the morning, El Confidencial reported an amount of €4.7 million since 2003. But in the afternoon, El País added that the billed amount since 2001 could be €7 million.

If seven million euros were paid for non-existent services, a crime of breach of trust may have been committed, which is punishable by up to three years in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office will have to decide whether to close the case or see indications of a crime and file a complaint.

4. Can Barcelona be sanctioned by LaLiga?

Many offenses have prescribed in terms of sports, but criminal cases are another matter. In fact, both FC Barcelona and La Liga consider that, if nothing more comes to light, the club may have acted questionably in its methods, but it was Enriquez Negreira who committed fraud, and he has already been fined by the tax authorities.

5. How did FC Barcelona hide the referee payments for so long?

Since the news was broken by SER and AS, testimonies have emerged (from former referees, journalists, and former directors) stating that their suspicions have now been confirmed. But it is true that neither the control mechanisms of the refereeing committee, which aligns with the Spanish Federation, nor those of FC Barcelona detected anything. Both parts deserve an explanation because that is a mystery.

Since 2003, Barcelona has had four presidents (Laporta, Bartomeu, Rosell, and Laporta again) who, upon taking office, first examined the management of their predecessors down to the last cent. Sandro Rosell discovered that Joan Laporta had spent €24.50 with the club card at the Lolita poultry shop in Sant Cugat, or €128 on cigars at a tobacco shop. How was a million-dollar contract like that of DASNIL 95 overlooked?