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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira called to testify in Barcelona corruption case

The investigating judge in charge of examining the €7.3million Barcelona paid to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira has called the former referees’ chief to testify, despite his defence team having raised concerns over his health.

Barcelona were charged with corruption in March 2023 over payments made to Enriquez Negreira, the former vice-president of Spanish football’s refereeing committee, in a case brought by the Spanish public prosecutor’s office. The case relates to payments made between 2001 and 2018.

In addition to Enriquez Negreira, Barcelona’s current president Joan Laporta, as well as his predecessors Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, along with several other former club directors, are also being investigated. They have all denied wrongdoing.

The only testimony given by Enriquez Negreira himself so far was to Spain’s tax authorities, whose discovery of the payments led to public prosecutors taking up the wider case.

As reported in Spanish media, Enriquez Negreira told them Barcelona had paid him “to make sure no refereeing decisions were made against them, which is to say, for everything to be neutral”.

Enriquez Negreira, who is 78 years old, had submitted a medical report through his lawyers stating he would not be in a position to declare in front of a court because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In October, he underwent an examination by a doctor from the Institute of Legal Medicine in Barcelona.

Judge Joaquin Aguirre Lopez, head of the investigating court number one of Barcelona, has now said he will be summoned to testify on February 21.


Laporta and others being investigated have denied wrongdoing (Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Enriquez Negreira and Barca have denied the payments he received constitute any wrongdoing, with the club saying he was hired as an “external consultant” who provided reports “related to professional refereeing”.

Aguirre Lopez’s investigations are ongoing, but the latest major development in the case came in September, when the judge produced a document, seen by The Athletic, that reflected a change in strategy from the prosecutors’ side.

Aguirre Lopez said a “potential new offence of the crime of bribery” was now being considered — without dropping the original charges of possible corruption.

The initial corruption charges always required further evidence beyond the payments Barcelona made to Negreira — which are not in doubt. This is what Aguirre Lopez’s investigation has been searching for; concrete proof, or confessions from parties involved, that the money was paid directly in return for favourable treatment on the pitch.

Enriquez Negreira, Barca and the current and former club executives mentioned above have all denied that was the case.

In September, Aguirre Lopez said no evidence had been found of Enriquez Negreira paying referees to influence match results, and reports in the Spanish press suggested the judge had started to lose hope of finding evidence to support those charges in recent months, which led him to change focus.

Significantly, bribery is one of the crimes that, according to Spanish law, can’t be processed by a judge. If the case were to proceed in that direction, any final sentence would be made by a jury after a trial.

Jury members would be picked randomly among the population registered with Barcelona’s city council, as the case is being processed by a local court.

(Alex Caparros/Getty Images)



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