The Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office has had to put the handbrake on the investigation into allegedly irregular payments from FC Barcelona to former referee José María Enríquez Negreira. The police will no longer be able to take new statements from witnesses or those investigated, nor examine new documents to prove the crimes of unfair administration and corruption between individuals. The complaint that the VAR arbitrator Xavier Estrada Fernández has filed in the courts of Barcelona for the same events forces the public prosecutor to stop some investigations that have been underway since May 2022, when the Tax Agency sent him a report on the payments that until 2018, Barça made the Dasnil company, owned by Enríquez Negreira, while he was number two of the Spanish referees.
In addition to annoying his colleagues, Estrada Fernández’s complaint has had another side effect: it has forced the Prosecutor’s investigation to be brought to a hasty conclusion. The law obliges the prosecutor to cease his investigative proceedings when he becomes aware that a matter has been prosecuted, that is, that it is in the hands of a judge. The complaint has already been distributed in the courts of Barcelona, as judicial sources have explained to this newspaper. Regardless of whether the judge on duty decides to file or admit the complaint, the mere registration of the complaint implies the loss of competence of the prosecutor, who is now finalizing his final report on the case. That document will be presented, according to the same sources, next week before the corresponding court. The Prosecutor’s Office is now assessing whether it limits itself to remitting the facts or preparing a formal complaint.
The proceedings of the Prosecutor’s Office have not been able to prove the real reason for these million-dollar disbursements or the destination that the former leader gave to the money, which he periodically withdrew in cash. The investigation planned to delve into that path, but it will no longer be possible. Doubts persist; Above all, what was the objective of some payments with which, according to Enríquez Negreira declared before the Treasury, Barça intended to ensure “neutral” arbitrations, which would not harm them. This mystery must now be cleared up by the court once the former referee Estrada Fernández – who led matches at the highest level in Spain and Europe until last year and is now a member of the team of collegiate video arbitration (VAR) – sued last Friday against the former referee and his son, Javier Enríquez.
According to this newspaper, at least since 2001 and until 2018 the former vice president of the Technical Arbitration Committee, the governing body of referees in Spain, received almost seven million euros for alleged verbal advice that, according to researchers, has not been accredited. His son Javier, coach He also received payments from the club for written and DVD reports on the behavior of referees on the pitch. These reports have been provided to the proceedings, both by the professional and by Barça, and in principle there is no doubt about their veracity. The role played by a deceased former FC Barcelona director, Josep Contreras, who allegedly received, as a commission agent, up to 50% of the amount that the club paid for Javier Enríquez’s services, is part of the investigation.
Estrada, 47, argues in his complaint that Enríquez Negreira “had or could have” influence over the referees and points out that the facts violate the “transparency of professional soccer” and the “integrity” of the union. The lawyer who signs the complaint, Jorge Culleré, added in public statements that Estrada has acted for his “honour” and to defend “the good name of the referees and the cleanliness of the competition.” “It is a message to say that you have to investigate until the end and that the referees have nothing to hide,” he said.
Accounts, companies and declarations
The proceedings were opened in May 2022 and, given their complexity and the need to delve into the matter, they were extended in November. During these nine months, the investigators have requested information from FC Barcelona, have analyzed the accounts of Dasnil and the other companies involved, have examined the assets of Enríquez Negreira and her son, and have taken statements from various people. Among them, as investigated, the former president of FC Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu, as well as various witnesses, including those responsible for the club’s finances and administration. In July 2018, Bartomeu’s team decided to end payments to Enríquez Negreira, which provoked an angry reaction from the former collegiate, who threatened to break his “loyalty” with “all the presidents” of Barça if he did not continue to collect.
There is the paradox that, although it was Bartomeu’s team that broke with Negreira, it is the one that will foreseeably assume the criminal consequences that derive from the case, since the events that affect other presidents would have prescribed. The investigation has proven that there have been payments since 2001, in the period of Joan Gaspart, regardless of whether they date back to the presidency of Josep Lluís Núñez. The Dasnil company, which had no activity or clients beyond Barça, was created in 1995 with the sole purpose of billing the club, which makes investigators think that this was the moment when the operation began. In any case, the payments were maintained during the presidencies of Joan Laporta —who increased their amount notably, as this newspaper reported—, Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu.
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