Barçagate: Why has FC Barcelona’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu been arrested?

Catalan police raided the Camp Nou offices of FC Barcelona on 1 March and detained former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu along with other members of his board as part of an investigation into Barçagate.

What is Barçagate?

Barçagate began with an investigation by the Spanish radio programme ‘Què t’hi Jugues!’ on Cadena SER in February 2020. Barcelona hired a social media company, called I3 Ventures, to tarnish the reputation of certain individuals considered to be critical of Bartomeu and his board.

I3 Ventures were said to have used social media accounts to defend the actions of the Barcelona board and attack individuals who disagreed with them. Some of the people allegedly attacked in this manner included first-team players Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, former player Xavi and current presidential candidates Víctor Font and Joan Laporta.

Cadena SER reported that I3 Ventures created a series of social media accounts subsequent to signing the contract with Barcelona in order to spread the board’s message. Bartomeu, who will spend the night of his arrest in custody, denied that the club had hired I3 Ventures to attack individuals.

According to The Guardian, Barcelona were alleged to have over-paid for the services, which they were alleged to have done in a series of smaller installments that did not require authorisation by the club’s board or trigger internal controls. 

Payments made from Barça are alleged to have added up to €1,107,500 in 2017-18, with a contract signed for the following two seasons worth €947,700, although the services reportedly stopped after the story made headlines. In each case, the payments made were reportedly under the €200,000 threshold that triggers internal checks.

Barcelona denied any wrongdoing and I3 ventures insisted the accounts publishing negative stories were not theirs. An internal audit carried out on the club’s behalf by PricewaterhouseCoopers cleared the Catalan club of any wrongdoing or of corruption, prompting them to demand that media who had made “defamatory accusations” to “rectify” their reports. But the police operation continued and one year after Barçagate hit the headlines, Bartomeu, has been detained and is being questioned by police.

The 58-year-old stepped down as club president in October.

A statement from Barcelona read: “Given the entry of the local police at the club’s offices, per a court order relating to the hiring [of a third-party company] and monitoring services of social networks, FC Barcelona has offered its full support to judicial and police authorities and collaborated with them to clarify the facts that are the subject of the investigation. The information and documents required by the police were strictly relating to this case. FC Barcelona expresses its utmost respect for the judicial proceedings and also the presumption of innocence for the people affected by Monday’s events.”

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