Barcagate: Understanding Barcelona scandal that led to arrest of ex-club president Josep Maria Bartomeu
Here's everything you need to know about the Barcagate episode that has the football world buzzing since the news of the arrests broke in and dealt a major blow to the club's image.
While their on-field performances have improved gradually after hitting rock-bottom at the end of the previous season, the same cannot be said of FC Barcelona's affairs off the field, especially with regards to their administration.
The headquarters of the club based at their home ground of Camp Nou was raided by the Catalan police on Monday, just two days after Barca's 2-0 win over Sevilla in a LaLiga game. The raid yielded the arrests of former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and three other officials — CEO Oscar Grau, former adviser to the presidency Jaume Masferrer and head legal counsel Roman Gomez Ponti, just days before the club was to hold elections for the new president.
The arrests were made by the police as part of their investigation into the 'Barcagate' scandal, a smear campaign launched by the club's administration last year against its critics, including both current and former players. Bartomeu however, was released conditionally after spending a night in jail and appearing before a judge on Tuesday.
So what exactly is this Barcagate episode that has the football world buzzing since the news of the arrests broke and dealt a major blow to the club's image?
The incident dates back to February last year when Spanish radio station Cadena Ser reported that the club's board covered up massive payments to I3 Ventures, a marketing consultant hired by the club to boost its social image.
The club had reportedly assigned the company the task of defaming its critics, who had swollen in number over the years due to unhappiness with the Bartomeu-led board. This including stars such as Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, former players Xavi, Puyol and Pep Guardiola (who also served a successful reign as manager), presidential candidates such as Victor Font and even pro-Catalan independence politicians.
I3 Ventures carried out the task by creating an army of fake accounts on social media which would then paint a negative image of the aforementioned individuals and other targets.
How much did Barcelona pay I3 Ventures?
According to showsport.me, Barcelona had paid the company a whopping €9,80,000 for its services which was divided into five installments of less than €2,00,000 in order to bypass internal financial controls. A transaction of that amount or more would have to be sent to a special commission. The installments were then made to companies associated with I3 Ventures.
An independent audit by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC), later commissioned by the club, was carried into Barca's deal with I3, with the transaction amount of €9,80,000 found to have been well over the market price — which according to the auditor shouldn't have been more than €1,20,000-1,50,000.
After the expose by Cadena Ser, the club admitted to hiring I3 Ventures but denied ever assigning them the responsibility of attacking its own players or anyone else with a negative perception of the club president. It eventually cancelled its association with the company as furore over the episode grew.
Additionally, the investigation was impeded by the coronavirus pandemic that brought the sporting world to a screeching halt last year.
Bartomeu, however, put in his papers as club president later that year as the club's fans called for a vote of no confidence, his resignation fuelled by the Lionel Messi transfer saga, the club finishing trophy-less in the 2019-20 season in addition to its dealings with I3 Ventures.
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