FC Barcelona to face lawsuit over Negreira corruption case
The Catalan club, and former president Josep Maria Bartomeu are readying themselves for alleged crimes related to payments to former refereeing official.
The prosecutor’s office is getting ready to bring a lawsuit against FC Barcelona over payments of millions of euros to former refereeing official José María Enríquez Negreira, as advanced by Jesús García Bueno in El País on Tuesday. The case will name the Catalan club among others as defendants for corporate corruption, a crime that involves sports fraud and carries harsh penalties.
Barcelona, Negreira, Bartomeu... prepare for lawsuit
Negreira himself will also be a target, as will the former president of the club, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and members of his management staff. The inquiry, which has been going on for about a year, centres on the payments made to Negreira, who is accused of receiving close to seven million euros from Barcelona via a business in exchange for allegedly dubious insights.
Due to a referee’s complaint, the investigation was ended a few weeks ago, but the case has now been turned over to a judge in Barcelona. From at least 2001 until Bartomeu’s team stopped the practices in July 2018, the payments continued without interruption. Since then, Negreira’s business, Dasnil, which was essentially solely dependent on Barça as a client, has seen a sharp decline in revenue.
Given that the club gave Negreira over seven million euros when he was vice president of the referees committee, the prosecutor’s office believes there are signs that the club engaged in commercial corruption. The investigation is concentrated on the monetary amounts that Negreira removed from banking institutions as it is unclear where these funds ended up. Barcelona also paid Negreira’s son to provide referee reports, and in return, former club executive Josep Contreras earned commission that might have reached 50% of the money.
The crime of commercial corruption can entail harsh punishments, including imprisonment, disqualification, and a fine. It specifically penalizes “athletes, referees or senior officials” (like Negreira) who intend to “deliberately and fraudulently predetermine or alter the outcome of a test, match, or sports competition of special financial or sporting relevance” as well as “directors, administrators, employees or collaborators of a sports entity.”
The investigation has established payments dating back to 2001, although it appears that the operation began in the 1990s during the presidency of the late Josep Lluís Núñez. However, the crime attributed to the club can only be applied back to 2010 as the Penal Code did not cover it before then. In 2016, FC Barcelona was already convicted for two tax offenses in the signing of Neymar and was fined 5.5 million euros.
Bartomeu in focus
The complaint to be filed names individuals, primarily Bartomeu, and members of his executive team at the time in question. Although they ended the deal with Negreira, they will be the ones facing the criminal consequences of the case. The payouts started in the Núñez (and Gaspart) era and were continued by successive boards of directors. The current president, Joan Laporta, even significantly increased the payments during his first term. However, none of these presidents will be investigated as the events are old and now expired.
Once the complaint is finalized, which is expected to be formalized on Wednesday, a Barcelona court will decide whether to process it. This is the typical procedure when the complaint comes from the public prosecutor’s office. One possibility is that the matter will be handed to the head of the investigating court in Barcelona, Joaquín Aguirre, who has already opened proceedings for the complaint filed by referee Estrada Fernández. However, that complaint is only directed against the Negreiras (father and son) and has not yet been admitted for processing.
When asked about the imminent complaint from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, UEFA issued a statement that it had “no comment to make.”
Both UEFA and FIFA have articles in their disciplinary codes that punish these practices, even if state regulations cannot intervene, as the statute of limitations for serious infractions is three years and the last payments from Barça date back to 2018.