Barçagate in a nutshell: the beginning of the end of Bartomeu
The former president of Barça, arrested for irregularities in the hiring of a monitoring service for social networks
BarcelonaJosep Maria Bartomeu has been arrested this Monday in Barcelona along with Jaume Masferrer, Òscar Grau and Román Gómez Ponti, three executives of his maximum confidence. The investigation believes they are involved in the Barçagate case, at the origin of the crisis that ended with Bartomeu exiting the club.
Obsessed with controlling the message and especially with the comments on social networks, Bartomeu and the head of his cabinet, Masferrer, hired the services of a company to monitor Twitter and Facebook. This was uncovered by Cadena SER in mid-February last year. The information provided details of accounts created to generate a state of opinion against opponents of the board (and now candidates for the elections) such as Victor Font and Joan Laporta, footballers of the first team such as Leo Messi and Gerard Piqué and businessmen close to the team such as Jaume Roures.
As a result of the scandal, Barça issued a statement to deny the information and deny the attempt to discredit the club. But six directors, annoyed with the procedure, resigned en bloc. The most critical on the matter was Emili Rousaud, who was expected to be the establishment candidate in the elections and ended up insinuating that someone at the club put "his hand in the till" when it came to hiring the services of the company I3Ventures, owner of the defamatory accounts in question.
Dribling internal controls
Rousaud, Teixidor, Calsamiglia, Pont, Elías and Tombas left the Barça board because they felt Bartomeu was making sensitive decisions without consulting them. In fact, the hiring of I3Ventures was made dribbling the internal controls of the club, splitting the payment of one million euros in five parts to make it go unnoticed. A figure, by the way, that certain people in the entity were surprised to be so high considering the market prices of such initiatives. Among them the compliance officer Noelia Romero, who was fired.
Astounded by the information they read in the media, the members of Dignitat Blaugrana filed a lawsuit against Bartomeu, Masferrer and Carlos Ibáñez (head of I3Ventures) for misuse of funds and corruption at the end of April 2020. The 13th Court of the Barcelona High Court accepted the complaint in June and began an investigation that has also involved Barça's CEO, Òscar Grau, and the club's head of legal, Román Gómez Ponti.
The PWC audit
In parallel to this investigation, amidst the pandemic and increasingly alone in the board, Bartomeu commissioned an audit from PriceWaterhouseCoopers to try to clarify the facts. The results were publicly explained by the board's spokesman, Josep Vives, and Gómez Ponti at a press conference in the Auditori 1899. PWC exonerated the ex-president of defamation and of having paid an overcharge, but pointed out that the payment to I3Ventures was indeed split. "The management of these contracts has not been careful," admitted Vives.
Searches and arrests
As part of the judicial investigation, the Catalan police collected information at Camp Nou in July. The judge in charge of the case, Alejandra Gil, has kept the content of the proceedings secret in order to continue looking for evidence and not hinder the takeover by the new Barça president, who will be elected on Sunday. This Monday, however, she has ordered new searches in the offices of the club and in the homes of Bartomeu and Masferrer. The decisions to arrest the president, his right-hand man, Grau and Gomez Ponti were taken by the police force.