Arrested Monday and suspected of breach of trust and corruption, Josep Maria Bartomeu and his former right-hand man Jaume Masferrer spent the night in a police station before being transferred to the Barcelona courthouse to be heard.
After refusing to speak during their hearing, they were granted “provisional freedom” by the magistrate in charge of the case whose investigation “remains open”, said in a statement the higher court of Catalonia.
Searches at the club’s headquarters, arrest of the director general, Oscar Grau, and the legal director, Roman Gomez Ponti, released on Monday, the investigation into the Barçagate “, opened in May, accelerated on Monday.
After months of debacle between financial problems and the will to leave this summer of living legend Lionel Messi, the police operation against the club is definitely blemish.
“What happened yesterday is not good for Barça or La Liga”, also lamented Tuesday the boss of the Spanish championship, Javier Tebas, saying he hoped “that there was no red line crossing “.
Club coach Ronald Koeman said it was “not good for the club’s image”.
– Slander campaign –
The “Barçagate”, as the Spanish media called it, erupted in February 2020.
In an investigation, the Spanish radio Cadena Ser then claims that a smear campaign against Barça figures was orchestrated by a company working for the club.
At the time, waves of negative comments on social networks touched figures of the club, critical of Bartomeu’s management such as Lionel Messi, defender Gerard Piqué, the former emblematic coach Pep Guardiola or the former president and candidate in the next elections for the presidency of Barça, Joan Laporta.
According to the radio, Barça paid an amount of nearly one million euros to this company, I3 Ventures, officially to monitor its image on the Internet, a staggering amount, six times higher than market prices, for such a service. .
In addition, this sum was collected in six separate installments of less than 200,000 euros, the maximum amount for an invoice to be settled without being approved by the club’s executive committee.
FC Barcelona then categorically denied any defamation campaign.
“Have they been tasked with monitoring social media? The answer is yes. Have they been tasked with discrediting people or institutions on social media? The answer is no. And we will prosecute anyone who accuses us. from that, ”Bartomeu defended himself.
– Resignation –
These revelations shattered the divisions between the leaders. Several members of the executive committee resigned in April before filing a complaint for breach of trust and corruption.
Shortly after the opening of the investigation last May, the first searches took place at the club’s headquarters and in July an audit by the PWC cabinet found that “the club’s internal approval protocols did not (had) been respected “in the contract with I3 Ventures.
More and more criticized, by supporters as well as players and club members, Josep Maria Bartomeu ended up resigning at the end of October.
Sometimes messy in his communication and brutal in his decisions, the 58-year-old Catalan businessman had marked by his firmness, since his election in 2015 at the head of the club, sometimes at the risk of offending the fans.
Last summer, he did not give in to Messi, when the “Pulga” asked to “unilaterally” break his contract, forcing the Argentine star to stay.
And in January 2020, when the team was first in the La Liga standings, he had against all odds orchestrated the sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde to replace him with the near-unknown Quique Setién.