The center of the investigation is Bartomeu’s hiring of a consultancy specializing in image and data protection and social media to take care of his reputation and, according to the prosecution, also to defame political rivals and even players.
Accused of corruption, money laundering and unfair administration, the former president of Barcelona, Josep Maria Bartomeu, arrested on Monday, spent just one day imprisoned in the city of the Catalonia region. On Tuesday, 2, the businessman attended a court hearing and, after refusing to give statements to Judge Alexandra Gil, received the benefit of provisional release. The focus of the investigation is the hiring of Bartomeu of a consultancy specialized in image and data protection and social networks. The former president reportedly hired the company on behalf of the club to look after its reputation. And, according to the prosecution, it would also have used to defame political rivals and even players, including the creation of false profiles on social networks. Some of the targets would have been players like Lionel Messi e Gerard Piqué and the former team coach Josep Guardiola.
The scandal comes on the eve of a new presidential election in Barcelona, scheduled for next Sunday. “What happened today was the result of poor management at the club in the last administration,” said Joan Laporta, one of the three candidates in the election, in an interview with Lleida Radio. He considered Bartomeu’s arrest “shocking” and “not good” for the club. And he said that the ex-president needs to rely on the “presumption of innocence”. Barcelona’s management has repeatedly denied both the hiring of the consultancy and the alleged overpayment to defame rivals. According to the authorities, the operation was carried out by the financial crimes department of the police
Bartomeu and the other members of his board of directors resigned last year amid the consequences of the controversy involving Messi, who even considered leaving the club due to friction with the then president. The episode was just one of those that disturbed the political background of Barcelona, in addition to the financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. The club has been run by an interim council since Bartomeu left in October while facing a motion of censure supported by thousands of club members, irritated by the team’s poor performance and financial situation. The club’s difficulties began to surface after the team’s embarrassing 8 to 2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, which was the first untitled for the Spanish club since 2007 / 2008.
* With information from Estadão Content