Registration in the offices of Barça.Quique Garcia / EFE
The former president of FC Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu maneuvered to control and minimize the investigations opened within the club after the outbreak of the Barçagate case . Emails written by Bartomeu reveal how he limited the scope of the external audit commissioned after the SER chain revealed, in February 2020, the existence of a campaign on social networks to defame rivals and players of the Barça first team. He also pressured the head of regulatory compliance, who had initiated an internal investigation on her own, according to the summary that EL PAÍS has accessed.
Noelia Romero was the head of compliance —procedures and good practices— of the Barcelona entity until, in June 2020, he was fired. A few days before, he had communicated to the board of directors and the control bodies the result of investigations that detailed the irregularities of the contracts between Barça and the I3 Ventures company for the supposed “monitoring” of the club's image on social networks. The Mossos conclude that these contracts – 2.3 million euros in three years – were artificially chopped up and served Bartomeu's personal interests, concerned with improving his public image and, incidentally, sinking that of possible candidates to snatch his presidency .
In his report, Romero accused the Presidency area of hiring services "of dubious quality and little impact" to companies "of questionable reputation" bypassing internal regulations, say the Mossos. His work was "hampered and blocked" by Bartomeu and his right-hand man, former presidential adviser Jaume Masferrer. Barça "masked" his dismissal in the framework of an alleged "labor dispute" with positions related to Bartomeu, who personally tried to control the work of the employee and prevented her, for example, from accessing the documentation that she had requested. "Sergi, don't do anything for the moment, don't give anyone access," he ordered the IT chief.
Bartomeu wanted to know how far Romero was going to go. “I have called you and you have not answered me (…) I am sending you this email as the head of the club's compliance committee. I beg you to inform me immediately of the existence or not of any investigation on your part and of what the objective is, ”the Barça president wrote to Romero. The pressure and the dismissal only served for Romero to decide to collaborate with the investigation opened by a Barcelona court after a complaint from the Dignitat Blaugrana partner platform. Romero delivered 17,000 emails and more than 306,000 files from his laptop to the Mossos. It was a boost to the investigation that led, on Monday, to the records of the Camp Nou offices and the arrest of Bartomeu, Masferrer and two other executives : the CEO, Òscar Grau, and the head of legal services, Ramón Gómez Pontí.
Bartomeu and his right hand used La Masia to camouflage the 'Barçagate'
In that email, Bartomeu warned him that the consulting firm PwC was already preparing an "exhaustive review" of the contracts. But it was not true, according to the Mossos: the former president and Grau "tried to control the content of the audit, limiting the information that could reach the rest of the board of directors."
After the outbreak of Barçagate , former Vice President Emili Rousaud proposed an audit. Bartomeu agreed on its terms and scope with those responsible for PwC. In an email, he informs that the company will be able to search for keywords, but as long as they are "approved by Oscar [Grau]". And it asks to control the information. "We cannot have any confidential leaks to players, sponsors, FIFA, UEFA, etc." An employee of the club – a key witness of the Catalan police – proposed to go further, which irritated the former president. It is revealed by another email, dated February 24, 2020 and addressed to that employee: “I didn't know that you had seen Nacho Marull [from PwC]. I have been with him for some first evaluations. It was to be quick in the investigation, but with the new scope, this will take a few more days. See you in Naples ”.
When Barça announced the conclusions of the report, Bartomeu took his chest out and explained, at a press conference, that no relevant irregularities had been detected. In a statement, Barça went so far as to affirm that "no defamatory campaign was commissioned against anyone." But the truth is that it was never asked to investigate that aspect. The conclusions, the Mossos regret, were "very sketchy" and could be "misinterpreted", since they did not include the irregularities that were mentioned in the report, such as the existence of the surcharge. The police emphasize that the leaders "used the report as a smokescreen to end the controversy."