The strategy of the former president of Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu to improve his public image while sinking that of his rivals has been exposed in the summary of the Barçagate case. The statements of workers of I3Ventures – the company hired, supposedly, to “monitor” social networks and improve the image of the club – have confirmed to the Mossos d’Esquadra that the objective of the work was, in reality, to praise the figure of the Barca leader and “erode” rivals.
The testimony of these employees appears in the police report that the Mossos have sent to the examining judge number 13 of Barcelona, Alejandra Gil, and to which EL PAÍS has accessed. Bartomeu and the other three former directors arrested on Monday — presidential advisor Jaume Masferrer; the CEO Óscar Grau and the head of legal services, Román Gómez Pontí— “exceeded their administrative powers” by hiring a company that, through profiles on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, defamed players like Leo Messi already board of directors opponents.
In autumn 2017, Barça hired the services of the Nicestream communication group, made up of two companies – I3Ventures and NSG – controlled by the same person: Carlos Ibáñez, who returned to his country, Uruguay, during confinement last year. Barça signed five contracts with the company, each for a price slightly lower than 200,000 euros, which made it possible to circumvent the authorization of the board of directors. The police believe that it was a “fictitious division” to “evade the control bodies” of the Barça entity.
In their report, the investigators conclude that the club paid a “premium” for these services. And they calculate the “damage” caused to the Barça entity and “to the whole of the social mass” in a figure that oscillates between 843,000 euros and 1.2 million. The Mossos add that the total money paid to Nicestream between 2017 and 2020 —which includes the “private use” of the services together with a “monitoring” of networks in favor of the club— amounts to 2.3 million.
The magistrate pointed out yesterday, after releasing Bartomeu and Masferrer provisionally – who availed themselves of their right not to testify – that at Barçagate the club is a possible victim of the crimes of unfair administration and corruption between individuals. The police handle the hypothesis that “managers, administrators, workers or collaborators” may have received “compensation” for awarding contracts outside of the established procedures.
The epicenter of the investigation, for now, is the use of club money for reasons unrelated to its purposes, such as “protecting the figure of the president.” The police have verified the existence of profiles in networks that served to “improve the image and reputation” of Bartomeu and, in parallel, “defame critical persons” with the board of directors. For three years, “profiles were fed on Twitter and Facebook against anyone who represented a threat” to the former president, promoted motions of censure or ran as a candidate: Jaume Roures, Víctor Font, Joan Laporta, Xavi Hernández, Pep Guardiola or Gerard Piqué, quote the police report.
In an interview on Catalunya Ràdio shortly after Cadena SER uncovered the existence of these profiles, the owner of I3Ventures, Carlos Ibáñez, rejected the accusations: “We are ammunition to attack the board as part of the pre-campaign, the partner will not buy that speech, ”said Ibáñez, who disassociated himself from the accounts under suspicion.
On Monday, the Mossos searched the club’s offices at the Camp Nou, as well as private homes and company headquarters, where material was seized. The agents took advantage of the visit to question 13 Barça employees and six I3Ventures workers. They admitted in part the true purpose of the profiles and detailed that Masferrer personally went to the offices to close the deal. This “reported directly to the Presidency,” concludes the statement.
Some employees have admitted their direct participation in the design and creation of content for the profiles “Respect and Sport”, “Sport Leaks”, “Alter Sports”, “Més que un club”, “Jaume un film de terror” and “Justicia and dialogue in sport ”.
A. was the strongest. He stated that he should create “two publications a day” for the “Sport Leaks” profile, one to “improve the image of Barça” and another to “erode that of rivals.” He added that the objective was to “improve Bartomeu’s image” and “minimize criticism” on social networks. Regarding the profile dedicated to the owner of Mediapro, he admitted that he intended to “erode the image of Jaume Roures.” Another worker, S., argued that the goal of “Alter Sports” was to create “funny memes”, although “I had no intention of offending anyone.” E. added that they should “monitor” networks in relation to the club and “with Mr. Bartomeu” and that the only criterion is that the publications “had to be viral.” J. admitted that the tracking of the comments towards the former president was “special”, as well as “what was said about the board of directors and the players.”
In 2017, the former president had reason to be concerned about his reputation. Jaime Malet is the founder of Telampartners, the company that mediated between Ibáñez and the Bartomeu board. He did it in exchange, Malet admitted to the Mossos, of a “percentage” of the business. On October 2, a day after the independence referendum and while Barça were playing behind closed doors, Malet and Ibáñez exchanged an email. The businessman warned that Bartomeu had “86% negative comments on networks.” In the offices of I3Ventures, the Mossos found lists of journalists “supporters and opponents” of Bartomeu.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.