Barcelona supporters will by now be used to startling revelations coming out of the club.
Even so, Tuesday morning’s press conference at the Nou Camp’s Auditori 1899 was a jaw-dropper.
Club president Joan Laporta said an investigation into Barcelona’s finances had discovered multiple significant payments which had been made without apparent justification during the term of his predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Laporta said the evidence of these payments had been passed last week to the provincial prosecutor’s office — and made clear that he thought crimes had been committed.
While being careful not to name any specific individuals, Laporta and other club figures who spoke said they felt they had discovered clear evidence of wrongdoing which they expected the authorities to follow up on.
Here, we break down the key questions after the revelations…
Where did this evidence come from?
On taking charge in early 2021, Laporta’s board hired Deloitte to carry out a due-diligence study of Barcelona’s finances. This showed that the club had a debt of €1.173 billion and made a loss in the last financial year of €481 million. It also detected a series of unexplained operations, leading to the hiring of specialist agency Kroll to carry out a forensic examination.
“The study conducted by Deloitte revealed the existence of operations of dubious financial sense in specific areas of expenditure which required more in-depth analysis,” a Barcelona club statement said.
“The Kroll agency study revealed a series of operations of considerable economic irrationality and, in short, unjustified payments, falsely justified payments or payments of disproportionate amounts, according to the FC Barcelona legal department.”
Have we not already heard about all this ‘Barcagate’ stuff?
Bartomeu was arrested in March last year as part of a police probe related to allegations of improper management and business corruption, a case which became known as Barcagate.
It centred on accusations that Bartomeu and his board paid €1.2 million to a marketing consultancy to orchestrate a social media campaign against current and former personnel who had been critical of them. The case is still under investigation by Spanish authorities. Bartomeu appeared in court in the Catalan capital in October, with his lawyer telling news agency EFE afterwards that his client had not been aware of the activities undertaken by the consultancy.
The alleged abuses detailed on Tuesday are more serious and involve larger sums of club money being spent in questionable ways.
Kroll’s director of investigations Almudena Ruiz said its “forensic (investigation) quantifies the economic damage at more than €30 million.”
“We are talking about dozens of millions, but we cannot give an exact figure,” said Laporta.
So what type of malpractice is being alleged?
Barcelona say many different questionable practices have been uncovered — including exaggerated fees paid to agents, inflated transfer fees spent on players and unjustified payments to third parties.
“There was a modus operandi to avoid internal controls and statutes,” Laporta said. “The most surprising thing is that these were not just isolated incidents, it was their way of doing things.”
Such a modus operandi may not really have startled those who have been following closely. As far back as June 2015, Barcelona had formally accepted wrongdoing in the complex signing of Neymar from Brazilian club Santos two years earlier.
When Barcelona ran into trouble towards the end of Bartomeu’s regime, one of the board’s most brazen acts was to fire the club’s compliance officer Noelia Romero in June 2020. Last October, a Spanish judge ruled Romero had been unfairly dismissed while trying to do her job.
Significant amounts paid to agents, and surprisingly high transfer fees, are not exactly unknown in football. The sport often seems to run under its own set of financial customs, which can be difficult for fans to understand but are generally not a concern for the legal authorities.
However, Barcelona’s board are pointing to crimes having been committed which go way beyond the usual practices in football, including administracion desleal (malfeasance), apropiacion indebida (misappropriation), falsedad contable (false accounting) and simulacion contractual (simulation of contracts).
“There is a series of serious criminal conduct, which we could describe as grotesque and which cannot be stood up from any point of view,” lawyer Jaime Campaner said at Tuesday’s event.
What specifics were outlined?
Campaner outlined a number of different specific payments made by the previous Barcelona board which he said could not be justified. In each case, the details he spoke about seem to be related to deals or events which have been widely reported in the local press.