Fresh twists, probes as Barça deal with ex-ref company under spotlight

Madrid, Feb 17 (EFE).- FC Barcelona was on Friday finding itself increasingly engulfed in a scandal over payments it made to a company linked to the former deputy head of Spain’s referees as new twists and turns in the story came to light.

Media scrutiny was piled on the Catalan club following reports this week that prosecutors in Barcelona had opened a corruption probe into payments totaling 1.4 million euros that the club made between 2016-18 to DASNIL 95 SL, a company belonging José María Enríquez Negreira, who at the time was the vice-president of the Spain’s referee committee (CTA).

Cadena SER, which initially broke the news, reported that the payments stopped in the year that Negreira left the committee during a handover of power.

Barça did not deny the relationship.

In a statement Wednesday, the club acknowledged that it received technical reports on refereeing as part of the deal, which it insisted was above board.

“This is a common practice among professional football clubs,” it said.

“FC Barcelona regrets that this information has been released precisely when the team has hit its best form of the season,” it said, adding that it would be taking “legal action against those who are trying to tarnish the club’s image with possible insinuations against its good reputation that could be caused by the release of such information.”

Spain’s football federation (RFEF) said on Thursday that its integrity department had requested information from the heads of the CTA, which is part of the RFEF, and from FC Barcelona as part of the probe.

The chances of Barça facing sporting sanctions over the deal appear slim, however, given that the statute of limitations in Spanish sporting law is three years.

“It’s clear from what we’re seeing and what we’ve seen in the media that these services should never have been provided,” Javier Tebas, the president of LaLiga, Spain’s top-flight, said in a video Thursday.

“There is talk about whether this could lead to sporting sanctions or not, and we need to clarify from the beginning. We have already studied it and it is not possible for there to be disciplinary sporting sanctions because five years have elapsed between ‘18 and ‘23,” Tebas said.

Corruption or match-fixing charges pursued through Spain’s penal code as part of the current investigation being carried out by the Barcelona prosecutors would be another matter, he added.

“We will see how this investigation ends,” he said.

Conservative daily El Mundo reported Thursday that Negreira threatened to unleash the scandal on the club in 2019, a year after the payments to his company stopped.

“I have the firm intention of filing a complaint before the Courts, which will surely have negative consequences,” he wrote in a bureaufax addressed to Barça’s erstwhile president Josep Maria Bartomeu that was obtained by the newspaper.

“Until now I have not started these actions precisely to avoid serious consequences in the hope of reaching a proper understanding in relation to my claim, since I do not believe that another scandal will favor the club, much less Mr. (former Barça president Sandro) Rosell,” he added.

The fallout of the controversy has elicited comments from Spanish sporting and political personalities.

Villarreal manager Quique Setién, who was briefly Barcelona manager in 2020, said Friday that over the years he learned that it was difficult to change the “rotten things” in football.

“In this sport there are a lot of people who have never kicked a ball and who have benefited from it to a level beyond their means. We all know that where there is money, (there are) people who are interested and a lot of corruption.”

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez, when pressed on the matter during a trip to Slovenia, said he would wait to see what the RFEF probe dug up but bemoaned it took media reports to bring it to light. EFE

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