Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu was among four ex-Barcelona officials arrested on Monday, according to widespread reports in Spain, as the club’s Nou Camp offices were also raided by Catalan police.
Current chief executive Oscar Grau, ex-director of legal services Gomez Ponti, and advisor to the president Jaume Masferrer were the other three detained by Mossos d’Esquadra, the force confirmed to Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
The operation is in connection with last year’s ‘Barcagate’, in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players, who were critical of the club and Bartomeu.
Barcelona had denied accusations that they hired and overpaid a company to make negative comments about their own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior officials. The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club.
Some of the figures supposedly included players such as Lionel Messi – who was unhappy and unsettled at Barcelona at the time – defender Gerard Pique, as well as former head coach Pep Guardiola. The club later released an independent audit report showing that there had been no wrongdoing.
Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Messi and ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, which are to be held in less than a week’s time.
Presidential candidate Joan Laporta also confirmed the arrest of Bartomeu on Monday and said the day’s events would cause “enormous harm to the image of our club”.
He said: “Facing what happened today with the raids at the club’s headquarters and the detentions of Barca’s ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu and other executives of the club, our team want to express our utmost respect for the actions conducted by the judiciary and police authorities as well as utmost respect towards the principle of presumption of innocence.
“We are deeply saddened by these events that cause enormous harm to the image of our club.”
A club statement on Monday said they were co-operating fully with the investigation, stating: “Regarding the entry and search by the Catalan Police force this morning … FC Barcelona have offered up their full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.
“The information and documentation requested by the judicial police force relate strictly to the facts relative to this case. FC Barcelona express its utmost respect for the judicial process in place and for the principle of presumed innocence for the people affected within the remit of this investigation.”