Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano cleared in spying case related to Barcelona emails

A Catalonia judge said Barcelona's former financial vice-president should no longer formally be under suspicion in the case

Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano has been provisionally cleared of charges that he authorised payments for spying on internal emails during his five-year spell as financial vice-president of Barcelona.

A magistrate sitting in Catalonia today ordered an “interim partial dismissal” of Soriano, who is formally no longer accused of the charge that he helped former Barcelona president Joan Laporta illegally monitor communications. The former Barcelona managing director Joan Oliver has also been partially cleared. Both have been investigated for criminal liability in a case which has run for over a year.

Judge Josep Llopart Majo said that Soriano should no longer formally be under suspicion in the case, and still suffering the stigma which that has brought. Soriano's lawyers had insisted that he had nothing to do with actions undertaken by Oliver and urged the court to dismiss the case. The judge said that Soriano gave “consistent and credible explanations.”

The allegations against Soriano related to claims that he ordered a company called Cyber Experience to install an internal server called Encase Enterprise which, between 2005 and 2008, monitored all internal emails containing certain key words at the Nou Camp.

In bringing the case, a senior prosecutor found that Soriano had signed off invoices to another company, Intelligence Bureau, as well as Cyber Experience, and that meetings were held to keep him and other board members informed of findings. Originally, around 20 computers were monitored in this way with "stopping leaks to the press" being the motivation behind the surveillance. Cyber Experience later recommended covering the whole internal network.

 

But the magistrate today ruled that Soriano had justifiably hired the companies to investigate several significant and concerning developments at the Catalan club: the theft of a computer from Laporta, the subsequent download of a key club database and the publication in the press of confidential information relating to signings and player salaries. The magistrate found that Soriano had spoken to Cyber Experience and a working relationship with them - little of which was formally chronicled - saw the company help Barcelona work to avoid leaks.

There has always been a sense at City that Barcelona were key movers in the case against Soriano, who left the Nou Camp when Laporta’s presidency ended may have been the victim of a dirty tricks campaign emanating from the new regime at the club. Barcelona’s apparent willingness to engage in a dirty tricks seemed to stem from City aiming to capitalise on Soriano’s success at the Nou Camp, and that of sporting director Txiki Begiristain, in order to accelerate City's growth on and off the pitch.

The increasing rivalry between the clubs initially led to claims in Barcelona that City had tried to lure Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez away from the Nou Camp - suggestions which have been strenuously denied by sources at the Etihad. Barcelona have a maximum of five days to pursue several means of appeal.

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