What is the most likely punishment for Barcelona in the Negreira scandal?
An expert in judicial matters has revealed what sanction Barcelona are likely to face if found guilty of sporting corruption.
As you will no doubt be well aware, Barcelona’s payments to the vice president of the Spanish Soccer Federation’s Refereeing Committee, José María Enríquez Negreira, allegedly in exchange for technical reports on match officials, have already gone under the microscope at the Prosecutor’s Office.
Who has been charged with what?
At the centre of the storm are two of the club’s former presidents, Sando Rosell and Josep María Bartomeu, along with two other directors, who face charges of corruption in business and sports fraud. Rosell and Bartomeu are also accused with false administration and, in the latter’s case, the falsification of commercial documents. While we must now wait to see how the case proceeds in legal terms, let’s take a moment to consider what punishments Barcelona as a club could be set to face.
What is the most likely punishment for Barcelona?
According to Jesús García Bueno of Spanish daily newspaper El País, who specialises in judicial matters, the crime of corruption in business, of which the club has been accused, could result in a fine and a possible disqualification from being allowed to continue their business practices. In the most extreme case, the club could be dissolved. This, however, seems an unlikely scenario, with a fine the most likely punishment for the club if they are found guilty.
Sources consulted by El País have stated that the fine could be triple the “amount obtained or advantage gained”. Although the club were already sanctioned in the Neymar transfer tax fraud case, this new case wouldn’t count as a repeat offence and invoke an even harsher punishment.
‘Disqualification’ in the case of legal entities, such as FC Barcelona, follows special rules. As stated by El País, certain circumstances could make the club exempt from responsibility, such as if they “had surveillance measures in place” and the perpetrators of the crime had managed to avoid them. The strictest possible penalty would be the suspension of all of the club’s business activities and the subsequent dissolution of the company, but the same sources claim to El País that this appears unlikely because the “relevance of Barcelona’s legal activity (sports)” and “economic and social consequences”, particular for employees of the club, need to be taken into account when the court ruling is taken.
Intention as a crime
According to El País, Barcelona could be punished if it can be proved that they simply had the intention to make the payments to ensure “neutral treatment from referees”, as Enríquez Negreira explained in his statement to the Treasury. The mere act of attempting to alter the competition via such payments (which indicate intent) would be considered a crime, even if they were unsuccessful in doing so. In Spain’s first ever ruling of sentencing in a match-fixing case, related to a fixture between Osasuna and Real Betis in the 2013-14 season, the Supreme Court considered that the intention to commit the crime was equal to committing it.
What sanctions could UEFA and FIFA impose on Barcelona?
Although the current Sports Law in Spain favours FC Barcelona in the sense that such serious offences can only be punished for up to three years after they are deemed to have taken place (the payments to Negreira stopped in 2018), UEFA and FIFA could still inflict sporting sanctions on the club.
UEFA regulations prohibit teams that have been involved in “attempts to influence the outcome of a domestic or international match” from participating in their competitions. Although there are precedents, such as sanctions handed down to Turkish duo Fenerbahçe and Besiktas in 2013, UEFA has not yet issued a statement about the Negreira case, which it is following closely. Andreu Camps, secretary of the Spanish Soccer Federation, publicly confirmed that the UEFA Integrity Unit had contacted the RFEF to request information about the case.
As for FIFA, their code of ethics states that they reserve the right to “investigate, prosecute and sanction serious infractions that fall within the scope of application of this code and in the jurisdiction of the confederations, federations or other sports organisations if they consider it appropriate in a specific case, in particular if the confederation, federation or sports organisation does not prosecute a serious infringement within a period of three months from the moment the infringement becomes known to the Disciplinary Commission”. FIFA could therefore decide to get officially involved and sanction the club and would have the power to relegate Barcelona to a lower division or deduct them points.