Audit clears Barcelona from 'Barcagate' smear campaign scandal

An external audit has ruled that Barcelona did not commission a third party company to run smear campaigns against a number of current and former players, among others.

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A report put together by the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers also found that Barca did not pay an inflated price for a number of services with the company I3 Ventures, as alleged, clearing the club of any corruption on a financial level.

Barca say they will pursue legal action against the media companies that brought about the allegations -- which earned the moniker the "Barcagate" scandal -- if they do not rectify the information.

"The board of directors instructs the club's legal services to continue and, if necessary, bring the relevant legal action against those who have made false and unfounded accusations that have gravely damaged the institution's image," a statement read on Monday.

"After months of having lived with defamatory accusations on this matter, Barcelona asks those media outlets who made the charges of improper behaviour against our organisation to proceed to rectify that information, given that it has no basis and has been denied by a report that has been put together with unlimited access to the information requested about the club and its executives."

SER Catalunya first reported in February that Barca had contracted I3 Ventures with the initial idea of helping to clean up president Josep Maria Bartomeu's image.

As well as defending Bartomeu, I3 Ventures, which administers a number of Facebook and Twitter accounts, is also alleged to have attacked people related to the club, including Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.

Among the posts revealed by SER Catalunya, Pique was criticised for his involvement in organising the Davis Cup, while Messi and his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, were also targeted. However, on many other occasions, campaigns were run in defence of Messi, praising the club's record goalscorer.

Club legends Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol and Pep Guardiola were also been discredited by accounts allegedly run by I3, as were presidential candidates Agusti Benedito and Victor Font.

In response, Barca immediately cancelled their contract with I3 Ventures, who had been hired to monitor and analyse social media for the club, and threatened legal action against the reports.

As well as the smear campaigns, it was also alleged that Barca paid an exorbitant amount for the contracts, with the suggestion that someone inside the club was making money on them.

Emili Rousaud, who resigned from his position as vice president in March, said that he suspected "someone had their hand in the till." Barca have since taken legal action against him.

The audit has subsequently found that Barca paid a fair market price for the services to NS Group, I3 Venture's parent company.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report did find that internal protocols were not followed when it came to signing and renewing the contracted services in question, but the board had been formally updated on the status of the projects.