Barcelona have been caught up in a storm over recent months following the emergence of payments to an official during his time on the ‘technical committee’, which oversees officiating within Spain. The payments totalled more than seven million euros and lasted for around 18 years, with the payments being made through either the individual in question - José María Enríquez Negreira - or his son’s companies.
Barca claimed those payments were for other services, citing consultation as one, but it is alleged that those payments were, in fact, made to secure more favourable positions towards the La Liga giants.
Legal discussions have been going on for some time at this point, but Barcelona judge Joaquín Aguirre has now decided that the case should be tried by jury due to a number of factors,charging the club with bribery. The main factor that allows the case to be tried publically is that Negreira was serving as vice-president on the technical committee at the RFEF (Royal Spanish Football Federation) at the time, and he therefore becomes a public servant, given the services he was providing impact the public, who ultimately pay to watch football.
The judge also cited the fact that once Negreira left his position on the technical committee, the payments halted, which, the judge claims, is more than just a coincidence. The payments have already been proven at this point, and crucially, to prove the criminal case, match fixing does not have to be proven. That would have been something Barcelona used in defence given it is very difficult to prove match fixing without proof of financial gains from officials, but that will not be tried as part of the case.
The court ruling added that the payments made to the former referee and his son were “to carry out acts related to his position”, either because of his “influence” or “ascendancy” with other members of the committee, “either because of his scoring of their referees, which ultimately conditioned their promotion or relegation or “because of his general influence” as vice-president.
The judge claims payments “produced the desired arbitration effects” for the club, “in such a way that there must have been an inequality in the treatment of other teams and the consequent systemic corruption in Spanish arbitration as a whole”.
A trial will follow, but it will be interesting to see what stance UEFA take given they have previously delayed a decision on suspending Barcelona until they knew the outcome of legal proceedings. It’s likely any punishment will be conditional on a legal verdict, given Barcelona, and the now former club officials who will be part of these proceedings, still have a right to prove innocence, and La Liga punishment is also likely to come should they be found guilty.
As far as UEFA are concerned, their Champions League and Europa League fixtures cannot have been influenced by the alleged bribery, but in La Liga’s case, they may have grounds to not only issue punishments but to remove titles should the Catalan giants be found guilty, given league and cup titles will have come during the period in which the alleged bribery took place.