Barcelona suspend president Bartomeu's adviser after social media scandal - sources

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu's adviser Jaume Masferrer has been suspended following the social media scandal which has rocked the club, sources have told ESPN.

Masferrer was suspended from all duties with Barca at a tense board meeting on Friday after being held responsible for the club's relationship with I3 Ventures, the company revealed to be behind social media accounts that had discredited, among others, the first team players Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.

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Vice presidents Emili Rousaud and Jordi Cardoner both wanted Masferrer to be sacked. Bartomeu did not agree with taking such strong action but eventually consented to the suspension.

Bartomeu has confirmed Barca were working with I3 but denied any involvement in the social media posts, which also smeared club legends and presidential candidates. The president said the company was contracted to monitor social media activity involving the club.

Barca's board of directors has now ordered an external investigation from PricewaterhouseCoopers into the link with I3. They want to get to the bottom of who knew what and if the price paid to the company -- nearly €1 million since 2017 -- adjusts to the market price for monitoring services.

Other members of the board, including Maria Teixidor, Xavier Vilajoana and Oriol Tomas, wanted more drastic measures to be taken but the board of directors will wait for the results of the investigation before meeting again to decide on the next steps.

Sources close to the club have suggested it is not out of the question that a presidential election is subsequently called this summer. Bartomeu has a mandate to preside over the club until 2021 but, as he is in his second term as the club's president, he would not be able to stand. The board of directors would have to offer an alternative candidate.

The chaos began on Monday when SER Catalunya alleged that I3 had been contracted by the club with the initial idea of helping to clean up president Bartomeu's image.

Evidence was revealed that showed that, as well as defending Bartomeu, I3 was behind a number of Facebook accounts that had attacked people related to the club, including Messi, Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Pep Guardiola, Victor Font and Agusti Benedito.

Sources told ESPN that Bartomeu met with the first team manager Quique Setien and the club's four captains -- Messi, Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto -- on Tuesday to offer an explanation and deny any knowledge of the posts.

Defender Pique, meanwhile, called a journalist who posted a message defending Bartomeu on Twitter a "puppet."