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What is Barcagate? All you need to know about Barcelona scandal

FOOTBALL By Mirror | March 2nd 2021
Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Sevilla v FC Barcelona - Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville, Spain - February 27, 2021 Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates [REUTERS/Marcelo Del Pozo]

FC Barcelona is embroiled in controversy after police raided Camp Nou and arrested former president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Monday.

Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, also arrested Barca CEO Oscar Grau, head of legal Roman Gomez Ponti and former chief of staff Jaume Masferrer as they continue to investigate last year's 'Barcagate' scandal.

The senior club officials were accused of orchestrating a social media smear campaign against current and former personnel - including Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola - who had been critical of Bartomeu.

While police are not pursuing the alleged online trolling, they raided Barcelona's stadium to investigate charges including corruption and money laundering.

With the details of the alleged smear campaign, the specific legal charges and Barcelona's response, here is everything you need to know about Barcagate.

In early 2020, the Barcelona hierarchy were accused of smearing club legends on social media, including former personnel Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Carles Puyol, and current stars Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.

Barca's social media activity had been handled by I3 Ventures since the 2017/18 season and the firm was alleged to have set up troll Facebook and Twitter accounts to target so-called enemies of Josep Maria Bartomeu.

It was also purported that potential presidential candidates Agusti Benedito and Victor Font were targeted.

Bartomeu, alongside Oscar Grau, Roman Gomez Ponti and Jaume Masferrer, has denied the allegations fervently both before and after he resigned as president last October.

Following the scandal, six board members resigned and said : "We must also highlight our disenchantment with the unfortunate episode on social networks, known as 'Barcagate', which we learned about through the press."

Barcelona's Spanish defender Gerard Pique (R) poses beside his jersey and Barcelona FC president Josep Maria Bartomeu during the official announcement of his contract renewal at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 29, 2018. [AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE]

Meanwhile, there is a financial aspect to Barcagate.

Upon his resignation, former vice president Emili Rousaud accused a club executive of "having their hand in the till".

It was alleged that the contracts handed to I3 Ventures were paid in multiple instalments of just below €200,000 (£173,000) in order to keep them hidden from other club directors and financial controls.

Big Four accounting firm PwC was hired by Barcelona to investigate the incident and found there were irregularities with the I3 Ventures contracts, but cleared club chiefs of wrongdoing.

A police investigation has been ongoing, however, and Mossos d’Esquadra raided Camp Nou last summer and again on Monday to gather evidence.

What are the legal charges?

The Catalan police are not believed to be investigating the trolling which is alleged to have been overseen by I3 Ventures.

Instead, Spanish radio outlet La Cadena SER claims the arrests have been made on suspicion of "unfair administration, corruption between individuals and money laundering" by paying money in instalments to avoid financial controls.

In order to keep the full extent of their business with I3 Ventures private, club chiefs purportedly issued contracts valued at just below €200,000 to keep them hidden from other executives.

As such, Mossos d’Esquadra can pursue a case of false accounting and hope to build their evidence with their latest raid on Camp Nou offices.

Barcelona's response

The La Liga giants released a statement on Monday following the arrests of the four high-profile figures affiliated with the club and the latest police raid.

Barcelona's president Josep Maria Bartomeu (L) and CEO of Japanese company Rakuten Hiroshi Mikitani display the FC Barcelona's new jersey after signing an agreement between FC Barcelona and Rakuten Inc., at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 16, 2016. [AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE]

The statement reads: "Regarding the entry and search by the Catalan Police force this morning at the Camp Nou offices by order of the Instructing Court number 13 in Barcelona, which is in charge of the case relating to the contacting of monitoring services on social networks, FC Barcelona have offered up their full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.

"The information and documentation requested by the judicial police force relate strictly to the facts relative to this case.

"FC Barcelona express its utmost respect for the judicial process in place and for the principle of presumed innocence for the people affected within the remit of this investigation."

What's next?

The fresh turmoil Barcelona find themselves in could hardly come at a worse time.

While Bartomeu resigned last October and Masferrer's contract was later terminated, Grau and Gomez Ponti are still senior members of the club's hierarchy.

Meanwhile, Barcelona are in £1.1billion of debt, a significant chunk of which must be paid back this summer, while their talisman and captain Lionel Messi will leave at the expiry of his contract this summer, as it stands.

The police raid on Camp Nou comes less than a week before Barcelona's presidential election on Sunday, which was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

On the final ballot are Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freia, each of whom have distance themselves from Bartomeu throughout their campaigns.

Laporta is considered the frontrunner in the election after guiding the club through a purple patch as president between 2003 and 2010.

Reacting to Bartomeu's arrest, he said: “It is neither good news nor pleasant news for Barca since this person has been president of FC Barcelona.

"Although he did not have a good administration, he still has been president of FC Barcelona and it is news that is not pleasant for anyone. The truth is that it is shocking news, certainly."

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