Sports 04/03/2021

Deceit and threats to avoid investigation in Barçagate scandal

Compliance officer was fired for having commissioned an independent investigation

3 min
Josep Maria Bartomeu, former Barça president

In the last months of Josep Maria Bartomeu's mandate the atmosphere in the offices of the Camp Nou was "unbreathable", according to some workers of the club close to the management. "When questions were asked about those invoices, we were told there was nothing to say as they came straight from the top", confess those in charge of the areas where invoices were fractioned to avoid scrutiny from the club's control commission. In addition, when it became known that the case was being investigated, there was pressure on workers not to talk to the press and help "defend the image of the club". In reality, it was all about trying to protect the people who have ended up accused of misuse of funds and corruption.

As ARA explained on Tuesday, the police believe that Bartomeu and his right-hand man, Jaume Masferrer, obstructed their work. They also refused to allow the club's head of regulatory compliance, Noelia Romero, to investigate the case. Romero opened an investigation on the understanding that it was her professional responsibility to do so, but instead of being given the opportunity, she was suspended from her salary and job. A few days later, she was fired. Before, however, she wrote a report critical of the management of Bartomeu, Masferrer, Òscar Grau and Romà Gómez-Ponti, whom she accused of circumventing the club's control and contracting mechanisms. In fact, ARA has been able to confirm that Barça workers received pressure and were threatened with dismissal to prevent Romero's work from reaching the press or having any kind of echo. This report, however, helped the Mossos fill gaps in the investigation and allowed them to discover that the club had hidden invoices and documentation. These documents have appeared in the searches carried out on Monday, in some cases in the private home of Josep Maria Bartomeu, who kept some of Barça's contracts with I3Ventures. When the Mossos opened the investigation, Romero handed over all her mobile devices. The Mossos assume that the reason for Romero's dismissal is that she wanted to do her job well. In addition, they have documented tactics to hide documentation of the case from the club's workers, such as "secret cover sheets", to prevent these papers from reaching the control commission.

Hong Kong's refusal

Romero was not the only person within the club who not only refused to collaborate in Barçagate, but also confronted it. The first to do so was the head of the Asian commercial office, based in Hong Kong, Xavier Asensi, who refused to sign invoices that arrived at his office to pay for services he had neither received nor ordered. In an email he sent to Barça CEO Òscar Grau, Asensi says: "The more I think and read about what these companies do, the clearer it is that we cannot trust them. I cannot be responsible, nor will I be, of almost €230,000 for some companies in remote places not knowing what they do, who they are, or why they have been hired". Asensi was pressured to sign, but refused to do so when he received the support of his boss, the head of marketing, Francesco Calvo. Asensi, Calvo and Romero have not wanted to speak publicly, but gave statements to the police. None of them are still at the club. Romero was sacked. Calvo returned to Italy, his home country, where he signed for Roma. And Asensi has recently accepted an offer to go to work for Inter Miami, a football team in the United States. It was a tense few months, where important people like the CEO himself, Òscar Grau, was sacked. In the end, Bartomeu saved him just before signing the documents to fire him.

The director of La Masia, Xavi Martin, also received pressure when he discovered that €192,000 had been paid in instalments in different invoices for services that he did not even know existed. The explanations he received from Òscar Grau did not convince him, so he kept asking. Nobody could explain to him what that work were. Invoices were also passed through the Barça Foundation, a different legal entity. As RAC1 explained, the operations with I3Ventures in the name of the foundation were worth €176,400.

In an attempt to protect their reputation, Barçagate defendants also failed to provide work to the firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which they had hired to do an external audit. "Bartomeu and Grau tried to control the content of the audit at all times," the police explain, who estimate that the damage to the club is between €843,300 and €1,220,700.