José María Enríquez Negreira, a professional referee from 1975 to 1992 and vice-president of the Spanish Technical Committee of Referees from 1994 to 2018, is the name behind the latest major controversy in Spanish football. His name came to the fore following information provided by Cadena Ser in Catalonia which suggested that FC Barcelona had paid this refereeing federation official up to 1.4 million euros while he held his position within the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (Royal Spanish Football Federation).
The news came out as a result of the Tax Agency's investigation into the income of the company DASNIL 95 SL, owned by Enríquez Negreira himself, which received payments between 2016 and 2018 from FC Barcelona, during the Barcelona presidency of Josep María Bartomeu. According to the information provided, the payments were made to Enríquez Negreira through his company DASNIL 95 SL, which also included his son, through three transfers: €532,728.02 in 2016, €541,752 in 2017 and €318,200 in 2018.
In this way, the Spanish Treasury discovered alleged irregularities in the taxes of the company DASNIL 95 and sent the information to the Public Prosecutor's Office, which decided to open an investigation. Within the journalistic enquiries, the newspaper El Mundo published that Barcelona paid more than 6 million euros to this company of José María Enríquez Negreira since 2001, for arbitration reports, so that the alleged corruption scheme would have extended up to a period of 17 years allegedly, covering periods of various Barcelona presidents, as is the case of the current head of the club Joan Laporta.
After the scandal was uncovered, Barcelona issued a statement explaining that the service provided by José María Enríquez Negreira and his company was that of "external technical consultant", supplying "technical reports on Spanish youth players for the Club's technical secretariat". Furthermore, the Catalan club specified in the official note that "the relationship with the external provider itself was extended with technical reports related to professional refereeing in order to complement information required by the technical staff of the first and reserve teams, a common practice in professional football clubs".
It is true that several football teams hire consultancy services from former football referees, but the serious fact in the matter under investigation is that José María Enríquez Negreira was one of the three vice-presidents of the Technical Refereeing Committee and was in full exercise of his functions while he allegedly received the payments. Enríquez Negreira's role in the federation was to decree the promotion and relegation of referees and to award certain sporting prizes to deserving referees based on their performances on the field of play. This is where suspicions and suppositions arise as to whether there was influence on the part of José María Enríquez Negreira, and even his son, who, according to various reports, acted as a personal advisor or "coach" of referees, over the Spanish referees in certain matches in order to allegedly favour FC Barcelona.
This connection is what totally tarnishes the performance of FC Barcelona and, as a result, the Public Prosecutor's Office has filed a complaint for "continued corruption in sport". The prosecution's accusation points to the Catalan team as a legal entity and to the former president Josep María Bartomeu in a personal capacity. The Public Prosecutor's Office would thus point the finger at FC Barcelona for corruption in business, a crime that came into force with the 2010 criminal reform and which includes fraud in the field of sport. At this point, the complaint will be passed on to a Barcelona court after the conclusions reached by the police and investigative bodies.
It is not known at the moment what the consequences of this matter might be for the club and it is not yet known whether or not it will be possible to prove whether or not the money was used to influence the referee's work in one way or another through the privileged position of Enríquez Negreira. A heavy financial fine is expected for FC Barcelona, but not a sporting sanction that could lead to the loss of points in the Spanish league or administrative relegation to a lower division, because the Spanish Sports Law states that offences in this area are subject to a three-year statute of limitations, and this period has already passed. Although in this aspect, there is also talk that UEFA and FIFA, the highest international football bodies at European and world level respectively, could enter ex officio and decree a sporting sanction at the level of Spanish competition and even participation in European tournaments, all depending on the judicial verdict that is established around the accusation presented by the Public Prosecutor's Office for an alleged crime of continued corruption in the sporting sphere by Barcelona.