Barcelona president Joan Laporta has confirmed the club’s previous board could face criminal charges for the misappropriation of funds and false accounting.
Laporta said a third-party forensic investigation into the club’s finances revealed that the previous board, presided over by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, made unjustified payments to journalists and lawyers as well as paying commission of over 30% to some agents when the industry standard is around 5%.
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Barca estimate the cost of all these payments to the club is around €30 million, with Laporta suggesting they “might also constitute cases of unjust [personal] enrichment that require further investigation.”
The Catalan club filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in Barcelona on Wednesday and have been looking into possible financial crimes since Friday.
“The members have the right to know the actions that have led the club to a ruinous situation,” Laporta said in a news conference on Tuesday. “[A third-party investigation] has revealed a series of operations of considerable economic irrationality and, in short, unjustified payments, falsely justified payments or payments of disproportionate amounts.
“When the administration of a social entity presents such overwhelming suggestions of mismanagement, the criminal justice system is called upon to investigate and clarify any possible illicit diversions, abuses or enrichment.”
Laporta did not detail specific cases but said there was one “dubious” payment made to a lawyer through a player as a way of disguising the transaction. Payments to third parties were also broken into smaller amounts to avoid detection.
Laporta returned for his second spell as Barca president in March 2021, succeeding Bartomeu. He encountered a club steeped in debt, although Barca were still able to sign Ferran Torres from Manchester City for €55m in January.
Sources have told ESPN that Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland remains a target for the summer, too, and Laporta was asked whether he would be willing to pay more than 5% in commission to the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, to push a deal through.
“What we will not do is make unjustifiable payments,” he said. “We will not make disproportionate payments. You are talking about a deal [for Haaland], and there are exaggerated reports of the commission.
“In the past, there have been times where, if you want a player, you have to pay a certain amount of commission. But if we do that, we won’t dress it up. We will explain it with complete transparency. What we will not do is say that a transfer cost €17m [for Neymar] and later it turns out that €40m went to the father and the total deal was closer to €100m.”
Speaking alongside Laporta, vice president Eduard Romeu confirmed that Bartomeu left the club in €1.35 billion of debt, with losses over the last years totaling €600m, of which only €135m is related to the pandemic. Barca took out a loan last year to restructure their short-term debt.
Romeu also explained that the new board of directors encountered “unsustainable player salaries” that were “40% higher” than that of Barca’s rivals.
Barca have managed to knock €159m off their wage bill since Laporta took office 10 months ago, although they were unable to remove Ousmane Dembele’s salary from their books in January.
Dembele, 24, is in the final six months of his contract at Camp Nou and has turned down the chance to extend his terms. He also rejected the opportunity to move to England on Monday, leaving Laporta complexed.
“We offered him a new deal, it was a good offer, he even said it was a good offer,” Laporta said. “But, in the end, he wanted a bigger offer. We told him, per our criteria, that we thought the offer was good enough.
“His agent [Moussa Sissoko] has remained silent. We did all we could [to help him leave]. We proposed two offers to leave for six months which we thought were very good. We are surprised he did not accept them, especially the last one from an English club.
“But he preferred to stay. It makes no sense and is not good for him or the club. He is still in the squad but [coach] Xavi [Hernandez] must also have the future in mind and if Dembele is not going to be here.
“We believe he has an agreement with another club [for the summer], that is what his agent has insinuated.”
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