What is Barçagate? The keys to the Barcelona and I3 Ventures scandal

The Catalan local police raided the offices of FC Barcelona on the morning of 1 March in relation with the scandal over payments to a social media firm.

What is Barçagate? The keys to the Barcelona and I3 Ventures scandal

The Catalan local police, the Mossos d’Esquadra raided the Camp Nou offices of football club Barcelona this morning, 1 March, and detained former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu along with other members of his board in order for them to undergo questioning. But, what is Barçagate? The scandal that has rocked the Catalan club and with current players including Messi and Piqué involved.

Barçagate and the agreement with I3 Ventures

Barçagate began with an investigation by Spanish radio programme 'Què t'hi Jugues!' on Cadena SER on 17 February 2020.

According to the programme, Barcelona had hired a social media company, called I3 Ventures, to tarnish the reputation of certain individuals considered to be critical of Bartomeu and his board. I3 Ventures were said to be using social media accounts to defend the actions of the Barça board and attack those who disagreed with them. Some of the individuals allegedly attacked in this manner included players such as Piqué and Messi, former players including Xavi and presidential candidates Víctor Font and Joan Laporta.

According to Cadena SER, Barcelona had paid nearly one million euros to I3 Ventures for their services in the campaign, divided up into six smaller contracts of less than 200,000 euros each. The smaller amounts meant the contracts avoided scrutiny within the club, being under the limits of 200,000 per contract and one million per supplier respectively.

Cadena SER reported that I3 Ventures created a series of social media accounts subsequent to signing the contract with Barcelona in order to spread the board’s message.

The six accounts on Facebook, run by I3 Ventures according to ‘Què t'hi Jugues!' were the following:

Més que un club (66,000 followers), Respeto y Deporte (56,000), Alter Sports (27,000), Sport Leaks (21,000), Justicia y Diálogo en el Deporte (8,500) and Jaume, un film de terror (5,000).

Social media account information sent to Barcelona

Cadena SER had access to a 36-page dossier containing information sent to Barcelona periodically, this set out information and dates referring to the accounts on Facebook along with information on the impact of the accounts, which only an administrator would have.

In the days after the scandal broke, Bartomeu, still president of Barcelona, announced the club was ending its relationship with I3 Ventures. He explained that the club had signed a contract in 2017 with the company, but on the basis of the information that one of the “accounts (Respeto y Deporte) is related with the company we have given instructions to terminate the contract with this company (I3 Ventures.”

Bartomeu denied that the club had hired I3 Ventures to attack individuals, saying it was false that Barça had organised for attacks on any “player, former player, politician, president or former president.”

Now, one year after Barçagate hit the headlines, Bartomeu, who resigned as president last November, has been detained and is being questioned by the police over the affair.