FC Barcelona paid €1.4 million over three years for alleged reports on referees

Spanish prosecutors are investigating the origin of payments the club made to a company owned by José María Enríquez Negreira, who was vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees until 2018

Barcelona players, among them Iniesta, Neymar, Messi and Suárez, argue with a referee in a Copa del Rey match in 2017.
Barcelona players, among them Iniesta, Neymar, Messi and Suárez, argue with a referee in a Copa del Rey match in 2017.Juan Manuel Serrano Arce (Getty Images)

Prosecutors in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia are investigating the payment of €1.4 million (a similar amount in dollars) that FC Barcelona made to José María Enríquez Negreira between 2016 and 2018, while he served as vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees (known by its Spanish acronym CTA), the governing body of match officials of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

As revealed by the Spanish radio network Cadena SER and confirmed by judicial sources to EL PAÍS, the investigation began last year following a tax audit of the company Dasnil, owned by the former referee, and aims to find out what motivated that disbursement. The payments under scrutiny took place during Josep Maria Bartomeu’s term as Barça president, although according to the sources consulted by this newspaper, they date back to the last two decades. Barça has admitted, in a statement, that it commissioned “technical reports related to professional refereeing.” Enríquez Negreira has also acknowledged that he advised the club on the referees it would encounter in each match.

The payments were made by “various boards of directors” of the club since the time of Joan Gaspart (2000-2003), and also including the terms of Joan Laporta, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Asked by this newspaper, Gaspart stated that he has “no awareness” of the payments. The prosecutor in the case, who has taken statements from some of those involved in the case, must decide whether she sees evidence of a crime of corruption between private individuals - both Barça and the Committee are private entities - and file a complaint with the court or, on the contrary, shelve the investigation. The same sources point out that, in case the existence of the reports allegedly carried out by Enríquez Negreira is not accredited, the oldest payments would no longer constitute a crime because they would be prescribed.

Dasnil SL is a company that Enríquez Negreira created in 1995, barely one year after being appointed number two in the referees’ governing body, and only three years after giving up his career as a professional referee. Apart from the payments that may have been made earlier, the Spanish Tax Agency’s inspection has accredited that the company received €1.4 million from 2016 to 2018, during Josep Maria Bartomeu’s term as Barça president. The payments stopped in June 2018, a date that coincides with the establishment of a new Technical Committee of Referees and with the departure of the former vice president. As sources close to the organization have explained to this newspaper, the decision was taken shortly after the Treasury warned Barça of certain irregularities in the invoices.

“Technical advice”

During the tax audit, the former referee and businessman explained that FC Barcelona paid him for “technical advice,” since “they wanted to make sure that no decisions were made against them” and “that everything would be neutral.” The Tax Agency’s report certifies that he did not submit “any document that proves that he provided a service to FCB.” The reason is that the advice, as he told the radio station Cadena SER, was provided “verbally”. But both his son, who was the administrator of Dasnil, and sources at the club deny this and said that there is documentation to certify this analysis work. Two former employees of the Bartomeu era have testified before the Public Prosecutor’s Office that the company delivered weekly - or at least when there was a Barça match - reports on the characteristics of the referee who was going to direct the next match. These reports were sent to Barça officials, who used them as they saw fit.

José María Enríquez Negreira in a file photo.
José María Enríquez Negreira in a file photo.Diario AS

“This news story attracts attention and it is no coincidence that it is coming out now. As far as Barça is concerned, any captious, tendentious interpretation that insinuates things that are not true will receive a proportional and appropriate response from the club. We reserve the right to take whatever action is necessary to defend the honor and interests of Barcelona,” said president Joan Laporta after hearing the news.

In the press release, FC Barcelona points out that it “contracted the services of an external technical consultant in the past, who provided, in video format, technical reports referring to youth players in Spain for the club’s technical secretariat.” The relationship with the same external provider, the statement points out, “was extended with technical reports related to professional refereeing with the aim of complementing information required by the coaching staff of the first team and the reserve team, a common practice in professional soccer clubs.” In addition, the press release concludes that this type of outsourced service is currently provided by a professional working in the soccer industry.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) chaired by Luis Rubiales on Wednesday condemned the alleged existence of payments between FC Barcelona and the former vice president of the referees. In a statement released through the RFEF’s Twitter channel, the CTA pointed out that Enríquez Negreira “is not part of any federative structure” and expressed its rejection of “behavior that may be susceptible to ethical violations of the refereeing profession.” “No active referee or member of the bodies of the CTA may carry out any work that could be susceptible to a conflict of interest,” the statement adds. The CTA added that it is willing to cooperate with judicial authorities on this matter.

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