Just when it looked like Barcelona had turned a corner under new management, working their way back in the hunt for Spain’s La Liga title, the club is now caught up in a corruption investigation.
Prosecutors' prime focus is an entity named DASNIL 95 SL, which happens to be a company belonging to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, a former referee and important member of Spain’s Referee Technical Committee.
The Sporting News explains the details of the case, Barcelona’s alleged involvement, the club’s response, and the possible sanctions the Blaugrana could face if at any point it is found guilty of wrongdoing.
What is the Barcelona referee investigation about?
Spanish outlet Cadena Ser published a bombshell article on February 15 with a headline that summed up the story: “Prosecutors investigate the company of a former VP of referees who received consulting payments from Barcelona while in his post [as referee administrator].”
The report provided details of the investigation which has in its crosshairs DASNIL 95 SL and payments of €1.4 million made by Barcelona between 2016 and 2018.
While Barcelona is a party involved in the case, it has not been charged. For now, at least.
So what services did Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira provide to Barcelona? According to an explanation from the man himself, his work consisted of “verbally advising” the club by explaining to the players how they should behave with each referee in charge of their matches.
This kind of work wouldn’t normally raise any sort of suspicion, except for the fact that at the time Enriquez Negreira received these payments he was also the vice president of the Spanish football federation’s Referee Technical Committee (known as the CTA for its official Spanish title Comite Tecnico de Arbitros).
Enriquez Negreira denies that he did anything illegal to help Barcelona.
Barcelona, who during the aforementioned period of 2016-2018 was run by then president Josep Maria Bartomeu, say that the practice of receiving these types of referee reports existed since at least 2003 and that it was stopped at one point for cost-cutting reasons.
Barcelona statement on referee investigation
The club quickly issued an official statement in which it defended itself without denying that it received the consulting services of Enriquez Negreira.
“FC Barcelona laments that this information has surfaced during the best sporting moment of the current season,” read a translation of the statement.
Barcelona made it clear that the club “in the past contracted the services of an external consultant who provided the club’s staff with technical reports via video regarding players from Spain’s lower divisions.”
The club added that “the relationship with the external provider was expanded to include technical reports related to professional referees for the purpose of complementing the information requested by the coaching staff of the first team and reserve team. It’s a common practice of professional football clubs.”
Statement from Spain’s Referee Technical Committee (CTA)
“The CTA wishes to make clear that Mr. Enriquez Negreira is not part of any federal body since the change in government that occurred after the 2018 elections,” read a statement from Spain’s Referee Technical Committee.
“The CTA is available to justice authorities to offer its maximum cooperation for any type of information that this Committee can provide.”
At the same time the organization added that “no referee or member of any of the CTA’s bodies can undertake work that is susceptible to conflicts of interest.”
What punishment could Barcelona face in case of wrongdoing?
For Barcelona to be sanctioned, the club would first have to be investigated. As of now, the focus of the investigation is squarely on the company owned by Enriquez Negreira.
In the case that Barcelona was implicated and found guilty of receiving referee favours or paying bribes, the club could face heavy penalties.
Italian team Juventus was involved in a referee scandal and was punished with relegation to the second division in 2006. In addition, the club was stripped of the titles it won during 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons.