Barcelona president Joan Laporta says ex-board could face criminal charges

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has confirmed that the club’s former board could face criminal charges for embezzlement and false accounting.

Laporta said a third-party forensic investigation into the club’s finances revealed that the former board, chaired by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, had made unjustified payments to journalists and lawyers and paid more than 30% commission to some agents when the industry norm is around 5%.

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Barca estimate the cost of all these payments to the club to be around €30m, with Laporta suggesting they ‘could also constitute cases of injustice’. [personal] enrichment requiring further investigation.

The Catalan club filed a complaint with the Barcelona prosecutor’s office on Wednesday and has been investigating possible financial crimes since Friday.

“Members have the right to know the actions that have led the club to a ruinous situation,” Laporta said at a press conference on Tuesday. “[A third-party investigation] 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 corporate entity presents such damning suggestions of mismanagement, the criminal justice system is called upon to investigate and clarify any possible misappropriation, abuse or illicit enrichment.”

Laporta did not detail the specific cases but said there was a “questionable” payment made to a lawyer through a player to disguise the transaction. Third-party payments have also been split into smaller amounts to avoid detection.

Laporta returned for his second term as Barca president in March 2021, succeeding Bartomeu. He met a club in debt, although Barca were still able to sign Ferran Torres from Manchester City for 55 million euros in January.

Sources have told ESPN that Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland also remains a target for the summer, and Laporta was asked if he would be willing to pay more than 5% commission to the player’s agent, Mino Raiola. , to make an agreement.

“What we won’t do is make unjustifiable payments,” he said. “We will not make disproportionate payments. You talk about a deal [for Haaland]and there are exaggerated reports of the commission.

“In the past there have been times when, if you want a player, you have to pay a certain commission. But if we do that, we won’t dress him. We’ll explain it transparently. we’re not going to not say that a transfer costs 17M€ [for Neymar] and later it turns out that 40 million euros went to the father and the total transaction was closer to 100 million euros.”

Speaking alongside Laporta, vice-president Eduard Romeu confirmed Bartomeu left the club with €1.35bn in debt, with losses over the past few years totaling €600m, of which only 135 million euros are related to the pandemic. Barca took out a loan last year to restructure their short-term debt.

Romeu also explained that the new board had encountered ‘unsustainable player salaries’ which were ‘40% higher’ than those of Barca’s rivals.

Barca have managed to cut €159m from their wage bill since Laporta took charge 10 months ago, despite not being able to get Ousmane Dembele’s wages off 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 travel to England on Monday, leaving Laporta with a complex.

“We offered him a new contract, 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, by our standards, that we thought the offer was good enough.

“His agent [Moussa Sissoko] remained silent. We did all we could [to help him leave]. We offered two starting offers for six months which we thought were very good. We are surprised that 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 team but [coach] xavier [Hernandez] must also have the future in mind and if Dembele won’t be there.

“We think he has an agreement with another club [for the summer]that’s what his agent insinuated.”

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