Ex Barça President and his right-hand man spend night in police station over Barçagate
Police search Camp Nou offices and investigates Josep Maria Bartomeu, Jaume Masferrer, Òscar Grau and Román Gómez Ponti for alleged misuse of funds and corruption
Ysterday, the Catalan police arrested former president of Barça Josep Maria Bartomeu, former head of the club's presidency cabinet Jaume Masferrer, current CEO Òscar Grau, and head of legal Roman Gomez Ponti, as part of the investigation over "Barçagate". The investigating court number 13 of Barcelona provincial court involves them in an alleged crime of misuse of funds and corruption between individuals as a result of hiring company I3Ventures, in exchange for €1m, to create states of opinion on social networks favourable to the management of Bartomeu's board and contrary to players like Gerard Piqué or Leo Messi, Barça presidential candidates Víctor Font and Joan Laporta, or businessmen such as Jaume Roures.
In the early afternoon, the four detainees were taken by police to Les Corts police station, where they chose to remain silent and will wait to speak before the judge, Alejandra Gil. Gómez Ponti and Grau left the police premises before the curfew. On the other hand, Bartomeu and Masferrer had to spend the night there. The judge will rule on their release.
The investigation of the case is being kept secret in order not to affect the club's elections, but ARA has learnt it will be disclosed on March 11, four days after the new president is elected. The court ordered the search of the Camp Nou offices to search for documentation, but dissociates itself from the arrest of Bartomeu, Masferrer, Grau and Gomez Ponti and attributes it "strictly to the police sphere". Likewise, according to La Vanguardia, the agents have searched the private homes of the former president and his right-hand man and the headquarters of the companies I3Ventures, Nicestream and Telampartner.
While those involved were held at the police station in Les Corts (Bartomeu and Masferrer) and at the Camp Nou (Grau and Gomez Ponti), Barça has issued a statement to make "its full cooperation with the judicial and police authority to clarify the facts of this investigation" clear. The club has also specified that "the information and documentation required by the judicial police have been strictly circumscribed to the facts relating to this case". On the other hand, it asks for "maximum respect" for the procedure and for "the principle of the presumption of innocence of the people affected in the framework of these proceedings".
Barçagate was uncovered a year ago by Cadena SER's Què t'hi jugues!. The company I3Ventures was paid with an amount of about €1m, in installments of €200,000 to avoid the control of the board's awards committee. This practice led to the resignation of six of the club's directors: Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elías, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia. It also caused the dismissal of the club's compliance officer, Noelia Romero, who is currently in litigation with the club. Bartomeu denied his involvement in any campaign to discredit players or people from the club, but commissioned an audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to clarify the facts internally. At the beginning of the summer the club made the results public.
"We will bring the appropriate legal action against anyone who has made false and unfounded accusations that have seriously damaged the image of the institution and all its members," said Josep Vives, spokesman for the club, at the press conference that was convened at the beginning of last July. Vives also asked the media that brought the controversy to light (SER) "the rectification of the information, since they have no basis and have been disproved by a report". In the same appearance, Gómez Ponti made some self-criticism: "The board considers that the management of these contracts has not been careful and therefore will take all the appropriate corrective measures. However, he firmly rejected former director Rousaud's claims that someone had put "his hand in the till" in this whole affair, without pointing the finger at anyone.
"These events greatly damage the image of Barça".
In parallel to the PWC audit, the group of members Dignitat Blaugrana filed a lawsuit to start an ordinary investigation. As a result of that procedure, the police searched Barça's offices in July, when agents from the anti-money laundering unit visited the club's premises to request documentation on contracts with the company I3Ventures. This Monday's events are the continuation of that first search and have shaken the club only six days before the next president is elected. Candidate to the presidency Joan Laporta has recorded a video on his way back from Lleida, where he has been campaigning. "We have a maximum respect for the police and judicial actions, as well as for the presumption of innocence, but these facts damage the image and reputation of Barça," he explained.
On the other hand, candidate Toni Freixa highlighted on channel #Vamos how the searches have taken place less than a week before the elections, an aspect that he consideres has "grabbed everyone's attention". He has asked for "respect of the presumption of innocence". "You have to remember what happened with Sandro Rosell," he added
In the evening, Victor Font has also expressed his views on the events that took place on Monday through a video message recorded at his election headquarters. "Respecting the presumption of innocence, events like today's are very damaging to the institutional image of the club. It is urgent to change the club's model: it needs to be much more transparent, the control mechanisms need to be efficient and the representative bodies need to be truly independent of those in charge"