The first spring week began with high-profile news from Barcelona – the staff of the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police) are conducting searches in the club’s office, and the ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, former CEO Oscar Graus and Roman Gomez Ponti, the head of the legal department, was arrested.
According to Spanish media reports, both the arrests and the searches are related to an event a year ago – a high-profile social media scandal dubbed Barçagate.
Barcelona got rid of Bartomeu. Everyone is happy. What’s next?
He left the same way as he ran the club.
The case was high-profile: the journalists found evidence that Barca ordered the baiting of their players. The investigation is still ongoing
In February last year, Cadena Ser’s Que t’hi jugues reporters announced that Bartomeu had hired I3 Ventures SL back in 2017 to create a positive image of his person, as well as to conduct a smear campaign against players – both former and current who opposed the president. According to their information, about 100 accounts on Twitter and Facebook were set up for such tasks, which wrote well about Bartomeu and badly about all those who were undesirable to the “customer”. Among others got Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Pepu Guardiole, Xavi, Carles Puyol and ex-presidential candidate Agusti Benedito…
For three years, according to journalists from Cadena Ser, Barça spent about 3 million euros for this purpose, but all funds and contracts went bypassing the legal and financial departments of the club.
Later, the publication found out that there were more people involved in discrediting those who were disliked by the management, and they were all associated with one owner: NSG Social Science Ventures SL, Tantra Soft SA, Digital Side SA, Big Data Solutions SA and Futuric SA. In addition, these companies issue invoices to various divisions of the club to separate payments: Masia, Activos Digitales, Barça Innovation Hub, Media and FCB Foundation.
Bartomeu then denied the fact of libel on social networks, but confirmed his cooperation with I3 Ventures. Also in the official statement of the club, it was indicated that Barcelona did indeed contact companies that monitor social networks, but no more; if management discovered that they were disseminating negative and defamatory information about the players, then all contracts with them would be terminated. The director of I3 Ventures also did not confirm that his employees created accounts for the smear campaign, but Barca, given the entire scandal, nevertheless announced the termination of relations with this firm.
Nevertheless, the investigation began, and in the summer the partner platform Dignitat Blaugrana filed a complaint with the Barcelona court against Bartomeu, Masferrera (once the gray cardinal and right-hand man of the ex-president) and Carlos Ibáñez (another Bartomeu aide) for maladministration and corruption between individuals.
For the first time, they came to the Camp Nou with searches in July 2020. The judge does not calm down and continues to search for evidence
The day after the searches, Barça issued a statement that an external audit had not identified any defamatory campaigns and that the cost of social media monitoring services was in the range of market prices. This directly contradicted what PWC learned in April: their investigation showed that the club spent 980,000 euros per year on cooperation with I3 Ventures (with a “norm” of 120,000-150,000), and all accounts were divided into several parts below 200,000 euros, so as not to transfer them to a special commission; Barça was also serviced by five other companies associated with I3 Ventures. In general, analysts fully confirmed everything that journalists told the world two months earlier.
Judge Ariadne Gil was confident that it was necessary to continue the investigation, because there was little documentary evidence: the court expected Barcelona to provide the necessary evidence (of its innocence or guilt), but the club was in no hurry.
In the fall, Bartomeu resigned, but the investigation did not end there. And now, with his arrest, the police, apparently, have found enough evidence that there was still a libel campaign for insane money. And this is just part of a large dossier on the ex-president of Barça, under whom corruption flourished in the club.
The club has already announced that it has offered cooperation to the judicial and police authorities: “The information and documentation required by the judicial police is strictly limited to the facts pertaining to this case. Barcelona expresses its utmost respect for the ongoing legal proceedings and the principle of the presumption of innocence of the persons affected in these proceedings. ”
Barça fans can celebrate.