The judge investigating the Negreira case now attributes the crime of bribery to all those investigated in the case. This includes FC Barcelona as a legal entity and also two of its former presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu. For almost two decades, the Barça club paid more than seven million euros to the former number two of the Spanish referees, José María Enríquez Negreira. The head of the Court of Instruction number 1 of Barcelona, Joaquín Aguirre, considers that, beyond the fact that it can be proven whether matches were fixed or not to favor Barça, the payments constitute a crime of bribery, since the Royal Spanish Football Federation (body to which the Technical Arbitration Committee belongs) exercises functions of a public nature.
As vice president of that arbitration committee, Enríquez Negreira “participated in the exercise of public functions,” insists the order, issued this Wednesday. He adds that it was during that long term when he received season tickets from Barça. The payments, for which the club has not offered a reasonable explanation, were extinguished during Bartomeu’s time as head of the club and coinciding with the departure of Enríquez Negreira from the CTA. The judge concludes that these payments, whose final destination is unknown, “were made in response to the position he held” in the governing body of the arbitrators. Although legally the RFEF is a private entity, “for criminal purposes”, due to the jurisprudence analyzed by the judge, it has the status of a public entity; and its directors, that of officials.
Until now, the investigation attributed those involved with a crime of corruption in the field of sports. The case has its origin, in fact, in a complaint by the Prosecutor’s Office for this crime, which punishes “the directors, administrators, employees or collaborators” of a sports entity, but also the “athletes, referees or judges” who attempt to “deliberately and fraudulently alter” the result of a specific competition. But Aguirre believes that, for him Negreira case, this precept falls short. Remember that, in Spain, corruption in sport “has had little application” and has always referred to payments in which a certain club pays players from another team (as in the health case). And he adds that the precept does not refer to “the directors of the federation that organizes the sports competition”, as would be the case of the former vice president of the RFEF referees. The crime of bribery implies, among other things, more serious penalties and that the case be tried by a popular jury.
A charge “incompatible” with payments
The judge recalls that Barça’s disbursements to both the former number two referees and his son, Javier Enríquez, increased over 18 years: from 70,000 annually to nearly 700,000. Before the Tax Agency, in the only statement known so far, Enríquez Negreira declared that Barça paid him for “technical advice.” But there is no documentary support to prove it, nor any contract to prove it. In any case, the magistrate insists, a vice president of the CTA should “be impartial and have equitable treatment with all teams,” which is why “it is incompatible” with his position to receive such a large annual remuneration from a certain club. “Even if one or more other teams had also made similar payments, the conduct of FC Barcelona would continue to show signs of crime.”
“By logical deduction,” he points out, the million-dollar payments to Negreira “satisfied the interests of the club.” From there “it follows,” he insists, that these payments “produced the arbitration effects desired by FC Barcelona, in such a way that there must have been inequality in the treatment with other teams and the consequent systemic corruption in the Spanish arbitration as a whole.” . Aguirre admits that for now it is a “logical inference” and trusts that the investigation, which he has entrusted to the Civil Guard, “will be able to confirm these extremes.” Negreira’s mandate was so extensive (from 1993 to 2018) that he “covers the entire sporting life of a soccer referee”, something that he must take into account to “assess the influence” that he could have had on the CTA.
But what the judge is saying is that, in the crime of bribery, it matters little whether or not the will of specific arbitrators has been bought. “The crime of bribery has been consummated once the payment has been made, whether or not the systemic corruption of Spanish arbitration is proven.” Aguirre recalls that no reasonable explanation has been given (not even by the club) about the payments to Negreira, who in 2018, when Bartomeu’s board announced that he would no longer earn more, sent “an intimidating letter” to the then Barça president. . “I indicated to him, in essence, that if they did not continue paying him he would reveal a series of facts that could seriously harm the club.” José María Enríquez Negreira, the order concludes, “was aware, to a greater or lesser extent, of the illegality of his actions, and even of other acts unknown until now.”
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