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Negreira refereeing case: Judge believes evidence points to ‘systemic corruption’ in favor of FC Barcelona

The magistrate found that the club would not have been paying the referee millions of dollars since 2001 ‘if it did not benefit them’

Óscar López-Fonseca
NEGREIRA CASE
The former vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA), José María Enríquez Negreira, in an undated photo.Diario AS

A Barcelona magistrate has concluded that the investigation into the so-called Negreira case, concerning payments totaling millions of euros between 2001 and 2018 by FC Barcelona to the former vice president of the Technical Committee of Referees (CTA), José María Enríquez Negreira, has uncovered evidence of “systemic corruption” in the officiating of Spanish soccer intended to favor the Catalan club. “It is presumed by pure logic that FC Barcelona would not pay vice-president Negreira around €7 million [$7.5 million] since 2001 if it did not benefit them,” said Joaquín Aguirre López.

Rejecting an appeal filed by the former president of FC Barcelona, Josep María Bartomeu, against Real Madrid’s appearance as a defendant, the magistrate points out that, from what the investigation has gleaned so far, it can be deduced that Enríquez Negreira used his position in the CTA to favor the appointment of “like-minded” referees to take charge of “relevant Liga or [Spanish] cup matches and international matches,” and even to ensure that match officials remained in the “highest category of the profession,” thus increasing their income considerably. The judge considers this “a novel way” of buying the favor of referees, far from “the traditional method of payment for a specific match.”

In his judicial resolution, the magistrate points out that it is a “logical possibility” that FC Barcelona’s payments to Enríquez Negreira and companies linked to him allegedly sought to “benefit from certain decision-making within the refereeing collective, which would have necessarily been to the detriment of the other teams.” Therefore, the court order opens the door to “any team of the First Division that has coincided with FC Barcelona during the years under investigation” to pursue a private prosecution, as Real Madrid has already done.

In his resolution, the magistrate notes that Enríquez Negreira was one of the three vice-presidents of the CTA, a body governed by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and among whose functions was to “designate the referees in charge of officiating First Division matches, the category to which FC Barcelona belongs.” Aguirre López adds that the CTA was also “exclusively” in charge of “technically classifying the referees according to the corresponding evaluations” and on that basis recommending the promotion or relegation of match officials between the different categories of professional soccer to the RFEF. In addition, the CTA also proposed which referees were candidates to officiate international matches (such as the Champions League and Europa League) and to designate the “reporting delegates,” whose job was to “observe and qualify the performances of the referees” and, if necessary, apply a so-called “corrective index.”

This last point what — in the opinion of former top-flight referee Xavier Estrada Fernández, who filed the complaint against Negreira — allegedly allowed the then-vice president of the CTA to control the rating system of the referees in order to favor those close to him. In this sense, the judge noted that several retired referees have “mockingly” branded this system as the “corruption” index because in their opinion “it did not meet any known criteria” and allowed referees lacking the necessary technical level to officiate in European competitions “to increase their annual income.” In his resolution, the judge stated that he asked the Spanish Civil Guard to confirm “the veracity of these suspicions.”

“If it were to be proven that the CTA determined the internal classification of the referees according to criteria other than their technical ability [...], the other teams of the First Division must be admitted as injured parties,” adds the magistrate in the order.

In another of the resolutions made public Tuesday, Aguirre López points out that the investigations into the payments made by FC Barcelona to Enriquez Negreira and his son Javier, a shareholder in two of the companies through which they were paid, will not take “very long,” given that all that remains to be determined is “the intended purpose of such payments,” which Barcelona affirm amounted to purely “technical” reports. In order to avoid the case becoming embroiled in other more complex parts of the overall investigation — including one into alleged money laundering on the part of Enríquez Negreira and his son — the magistrate announced his decision to proceed with the issue of the payments as a stand-alone matter.

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