Barcelona’s CEO Óscar Grau, chief lawyer Roman Gómez and former Bartomeu advisor Jaume Masferrer have also been arrested.
Josep Bartomeu Arrested After Catalan Police Raid Barcelona’s Offices
Bartomeu Accused of Corruption By Catalan Authorities
The scandal surrounds the club’s relationship with the social media company I3 Ventures, which was allegedly hired to boost the public image of Bartomeu and his board of directors, while also discrediting some of his most prominent detractors.
The New York-based firm supposedly created fake profiles that posted messages of support for Bartomeu, while tarnishing the reputation of some of his loudest critics, including Leo Messi, Xavi Hernández, Gerard Piqué, Pep Guardiola and presidential candidate, Joan Laporta.
According to sporting newspaper AS, the Bartomeu administration paid €1 million to I3 Ventures for their work, splitting the bill into five separate payments of €200,000 to avoid detection from financial watchdogs.
Local authorities accuse Bartomeu of paying I3 Ventures 600 per cent of the market rate for their work, circumventing internal club policy to pay the agency and “simulating” the dismissal of Masferrer while working out a beneficial financial arrangement.
However, an external audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers at the behest of the club back in July found that Barcelona had not broken any anti-corruption laws in its dealing with the social media firm.
As Elections Loom, Bartomeu Doubles Down on Corruption Denial
Last month at the XIV Vázquez Montalbán International Journalism Awards, Bartomeu, who ran Barcelona from 2014 until his resignation in October 2020, admitted to hiring the social media firm back in 2017. However, the 58-year-old vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“I want things to be clear to our members. There must be no doubt in the minds of anybody that Barça has never hired any company to damage the reputation of any player, former player, politician, president or ex-president,” Bartomeu said. “It’s false. We will defend ourselves as necessary against the people who are accusing us. It’s false. Barcelona has never hired anyone to damage the reputation of anybody.”
The raid is the third one undertaken by local authorities on the 26-time La Liga champions’ headquarters, with police entering the club’s offices in June and September to seize documents.
In the aftermath of their September raid, the police said there were “clear signs of corruption” at the club in relation to its dealings with I3 Ventures.
With presidential elections taking place on Sunday, Bartomeu’s full-time successor will have the additional headache of the unfolding scandal to deal with on top of the Catalan club’s financial woes and ongoing struggles on the pitch.
Laporta is reportedly the favourite to win the election. The former president from 2003 to 2010 was polling at above 50 per cent as late as last month, according to Mundo Deportivo. He is running against Victor Font and Toni Freixa.