A year ago the program Què t’hi Jugues! of the SER Catalunya network revealed one of the biggest sports scandals of the entire 2020: the Barçagate. What did this mega-scandal consist of according to the investigations? It all started when the previous Board of Directors of FC Barcelona hired a company, I3 Ventures, belonging to the conglomerate NiceStream, whose owner is Carlos Ibáñez, to generate content on social media favorable to its management and affecting figures such as Lionel Messi, Pep Guardiola, Gerard Piqué, Víctor Font, Xavi Hernández or Joan Laporta.
In short, according to the award-winning journalistic investigation, the company generated an entire media smear campaign against players, former managers and technical directors of Barcelona who, unequivocally, contradicted the sporting-economic philosophy of the previous FC Barcelona board of directors chaired by Josep Maria Bartomeu, former president of Barça, who has been arrested this afternoon as part of the investigation of the Barçagate case along with three other people involved.
According to information from Cadena SER, the Mossos d’Esquadra [Police] entered the offices of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou on the morning of March 1st “to carry out a series of searches” in relation to Barçagate. As part of the operation, Josep Maria Bartomeu, Óscar Grau, the club’s executive director; Jaume Masferrer, an advisor and Bartomeu’s right-hand man; and Romà Gómez Ponti, who was in charge of legal services, were arrested.
The context is very important to understand, because the former Barcelona executive hired a company to generate content on social media favorable to their own image and to the detriment of other figures of the same club in the midst of a convulsive economic and sporting stage for Barça, where sporting disasters were coupled with a disastrous economic administration and sporting management.
The revelation of Barçagate was a huge scandal, among other things, because the club’s administration paid the company I3 Ventures an overprice of up to 6 times more, spending just over one million euros divided into six payments to circumvent the internal controls of FC Barcelona’s hiring.
According to a chronology of the whole Barçagate case prepared by Cadena Ser itself, on July 6, 2020, when the whole scandal had already been revealed and there was a political storm inside Barça, the entity released the conclusions of the external audit commissioned to Price WaterHouse Coopers to examine what had happened during the whole scandal.
The report states that, “Despite the fact that the audit reveals that Jaume Masferrer (Chief of Staff of the Bartomeu Administration) actively participated in the content on social media, that a surcharge was paid and that invoices were split to dodge internal controls, the club continues to deny that such defamation services were contracted and that the only thing that can be criticized is that several administrative errors were committed by avoiding controls.”
Previously, on June 17th, Judge Ariadna Gil accepted “the complaint filed by Dignitat Blaugrana against Bartomeu, Masferrer and Carlos Ibáñez,” something fundamental since in the following months, specifically in October, Judge Ariadna Gil had found evidence of a crime and for the first time had extended the investigation.
In turn, according to La SER, the Mossos d’Esquadra -who months earlier had already gone to the offices of FC Barcelona to gather information about Barçagate by order of Judge Gil- considered that there could be “a crime of unfair administration in the hiring of Carlos Ibáñez’s companies by Barça”.
The Barçagate explosion
Barçagate, in short, ended up exploding in 2021. Just on March 1st, after the Mossos d’Esquadra raided the office of the blaugrana club to obtain records and data about the case. This was followed by the arrests of the members of the board of directors who were involved in the hiring of I3 Ventures.
Before the arrests, the Barçagate scandal was such that several directors had to resign. Bartomeu, former president and now detained, dragged out his resignation. He resigned in October when he already had a motion of censure on him.
The call for early elections at Barça also took a long time to materialize, and they have been constantly postponed for several months; which has generated criticism of the post-Bartomeu interim administration.
Today’s searches, according to journalist Sique Rodríguez, focused “on the offices of the finance, legal and compliance departments. They are looking for documentation that proves the crimes of disloyal administration and corruption between individuals”.
Thus, the Barçagate scandal, where the club itself (its previous management) financed an alleged media smear campaign against players, former managers and former technical directors, has reached the point of arrests against those involved. Among them, former president Josep Maria Bartomeu. For this reason, Joan Laporta, instead of calling it “Barçagate”, asks that it be called “Bartogate”. (Laporta and Bartomeu are political enemies in the Blaugrana context).
Bartomeu’s own administration was involved in other scandals. The most recent in relation to Lionel Messi’s contract leaked by the newspaper El Mundo. The Argentine player said he will take legal action against Bartomeu himself, the newspaper and other members of the ex-management who had knowledge of the contractual details.
At the time, Gerard Piqué, Spanish defender and Barcelona emblem, also spoke out about the Barçagate case in an interview with La Vanguardia: “As a Barça player, I see that my club has spent money, money that is now being asked of us, to criticize, not only external people with a historical relationship with the club, but also active players, and that is an outrage… I asked him (Bartomeu) for explanations and what he told me was ‘Gerard, I didn’t know about it’. And I believed him. Then you see that, in future actions, the person in charge of hiring those services is still working at the club”.
Messi also commented on the case: “The truth is that I find it strange that something like this happens. But they also said that there would be evidence. We will have to wait to see if it is true or not. We can’t say much, but we have to wait and see what happens with all this. To me, to tell the truth, it seemed to me a strange subject”.
He added: “The truth is that we have been having problems after problems since January until now. What we need is to be calm and think about soccer, think about the games and try to grow. At least we need to isolate ourselves, because if not, it’s going to be a complicated few months”.
FC Barcelona released a statement after the search and arrests in which it stated:
Given the entry and search by the Mossos d’Esquadra force this morning at the Camp Nou offices, by order of the head of the Instruction Court 13, in Barcelona, which is instructing the case of the contracting of social media monitoring services, FC Barcelona has offered its full collaboration to the judicial and police authority to clarify the facts that are the object of this investigation.
The information and documentation requested by the judicial police have been strictly limited to the facts relating to this case.
FC Barcelona expresses its utmost respect for the judicial proceedings underway, and for the principle of the presumption of innocence of the persons concerned in the context of these proceedings.