Barcelona's ex-president Bartomeu arrested by Spanish police
1st March 2021

Barcelona RAIDED: Police arrest super-club’s ex-president Josep Bartomeu, their CEO, head of legal and search offices for evidence over social media ‘smear campaign’ against Lionel Messi and Co

  • Barcelona’s former club president Josep Bartomeu was arrested on Monday
  • He is being investigated by Spanish police over an alleged smear campaign
  • It is claimed that he was involved in a campaign to tarnish reputations of past and present players who were speaking out against him during his presidency
  • Barcelona’s CEO Oscar Grau, head of legal services Roman Gomez Ponti and Jaume Masferrer, who acted as an adviser to Bartomeu, have also been arrested

Josep Maria Bartomeu has been arrested by Spanish police for his involvement in the ‘Barcagate’ smear campaign scandal during his time as their club president.

Bartomeu is one of four people to have been arrested so far, with Barcelona’s CEO Oscar Grau and head of legal services Roman Gomez Ponti two of those. Jaume Masferrer, who acted as an adviser to Bartomeu, is the other.

On Monday morning, Spanish police entered Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium in a search and seize operation. Bartomeu was arrested at home. The Economic Crimes Unit of the Catalonia Police Force are overseeing the searches.

Spanish media said the operation was related to last year’s ‘Barcagate,’ in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Bartomeu.

Star man Lionel Messi, veteran defender Gerard Pique and former manager, now Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola were among those targeted by the negative stories and social media posts. 

Barcelona’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu has been arrested by Spanish police

Barcelona CEO Oscar Grau has also been detained by Spanish police in one of four arrests

Roman Gomez Ponti, head of legal services at Barcelona, is another who has been arrested

Spanish police (pictured in 2019) raided Barcelona’s offices on Monday morning to investigate

Cadena Ser claimed that I3Ventures, hired by Barcelona, manages various social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook where negative stories about Messi, his wife Antonela, Pique, Guardiola, Xavi, Carles Puyol and former president Joan Laporta.

For example, stories about Messi centred on him delaying the signing of his new contract, a particularly divisive issue within the club last summer as the Argentine stood on the brink of leaving. He is still due to leave this expire when his contract expires. It was claimed Barcelona had been using the services of I3Ventures since 2017 and six different invoices have been billed totalling almost €1million.

Last September, it was reported that the Catalan police had filed a report to the judge investigating Barcelona’s hiring of social media consultancy I3 Ventures and ‘possible economic crimes’.

The allegation, according to El Mundo, was that Barcelona paid up to 600 per cent above the going rate for the services of I3 Ventures who were employed to monitor Barcelona’s social media.

It was claimed that these accounts ran negative stories about club figures who were in potential opposition to Bartomeu.

Back in July 2020, an investigation by audit company PricewaterhouseCoopers cleared Barcelona of any wrongdoing and ruled they did not commission I3 Ventures to run a smear campaign against important club figures. 

In September, Spanish publication El Mundo reported that Catalan police accused Barca of ‘economic crimes’ in hiring social media firm I3 Ventures

I3 Ventures were linked to accounts that ran negative stories about club figures who were in potential opposition to Bartomeu – with the ex-president having been in with star Lionel Messi

One of the stories referred to Messi’s wife Antonella (pictured here with the Argentine forward)

SO WHAT IS ‘BARCAGATE’?

The police raids at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium on Monday morning are the latest chapter of what has been dubbed ‘Barcagate’, an embarrassingly public episode that has blighted the reputation of one of world football’s most famous clubs.

In February 2020, Spanish radio station Cadena Ser reported that Barcelona had hired a company named I3 Ventures to run and post negative stories about hugely-important players and club figures who were in potential opposition to former president Josep Bartomeu.

Star man Lionel Messi, veteran defender Gerard Pique and former manager, now Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola were among those targeted by the negative stories and social media posts.

Cadena Ser claimed that I3Ventures, hired by Barcelona, manages various social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook where negative stories about Messi, his wife Antonela, Pique, Guardiola, Xavi, Carles Puyol and former president Joan Laporta.

For example, stories about Messi centred on him delaying the signing of his new contract, a particularly divisive issue within the club last summer as the Argentine stood on the brink of leaving. He is still due to leave this expire when his contract expires. It was claimed Barcelona had been using the services of I3Ventures since 2017 and six different invoices have been billed totalling almost €1million.

Bartomeu, one of the three people arrested on Monday, has since left his role and elections are due to be held this month to appoint a successor. He has strongly denied any involvement in the scandal.

Back in July 2020, an investigation by audit company PricewaterhouseCoopers cleared Barcelona of any wrongdoing and ruled they did not commission I3 Ventures to run a smear campaign against important club figures. At the time Barcelona insisted the audit cleared them of all wrong doing and issued a statement threatening to sue the media outlets who originally published accusations of foul play if they did not rectify.

At the time Barcelona insisted the audit cleared them of all wrong doing and issued a statement threatening to sue the media outlets who originally published accusations of foul play if they did not rectify. 

The statement read: ‘After months of having lived with defamatory accusations on this matter, Barcelona asks those media outlets who made the charges of improper behaviour against our organisation to proceed to rectify that information, given that it has no basis and has been denied by a report that has been put together with unlimited access to the information requested about the club and its executives.’

But police have continued to investigate the matter and initially raided the club’s offices at the iconic Nou Camp stadium last June as they sought vital evidence.

Police officials returned on Monday with reports revealing employees who work in the offices were asked to leave while officers searched for more evidence.

Speaking in February 2020, Barcelona admitted having hired I3Ventures but stringently denied that I3Ventures had any link to the social media accounts that have emitted the negative stories about Messi, Pique and Guardiola among others.

The statement claimed all ties will be cut with the company if any links are proved too.


Barcelona defender Gerard Pique (left) and ex-boss Pep Guardiola were also reported targets

I3Ventures also issued a statement in which it said it was not true that they were the authors of various channels in social media – ‘Justicia y dialogo en el deporte’, ‘Alter Sports’, ‘Jaume un film de terror’, ‘Respeto y deporte’, ‘Mes que un club’ – behind the negative coverage of some of the club’s biggest name.

Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned in October amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Messi. Bartomeu was at the centre of Messi’s criticisms when the Argentine announced his shock transfer request to Barcelona earlier this summer.

The Barcelona captain revealed the president did not keep his word about letting Messi leave the club if he wanted to, as the 33-year-old tried to move on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.

Messi told Goal in September: ‘I told the president and, well, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not keep his word.’

The scandal adds to Barca’s woes with club mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The operation comes less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.

Bartomeu fell out with Messi in the summer after denying him the opportunity to leave the club




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