Ex-Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu arrested

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Josep Maria Bartomeu has been arrested by Spanish police for his involvement in the ‘Barcagate’ smear campaign scandal during his time as their club president.

Bartomeu is one of four people to have been arrested so far, with Barcelona’s CEO Oscar Grau and head of legal services Roman Gomez Ponti two of those. Jaume Masferrer, who acted as an adviser to Bartomeu, is the other.

On Monday morning, Spanish police entered Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium in a search and seize operation. Bartomeu was arrested at home.

The Economic Crimes Unit of the Catalonia Police Force are overseeing the searches.

Spanish media said the operation was related to 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 then-president Bartomeu.

A Catalan police spokesman told AFP on Monday morning “arrests are taking place” and said the operation was run by officers from the financial crimes unit.

Part of the social media campaign included criticising current and former players, like Lionel Messi, Pep Guardiola, and Xavi Hernandez. Messi described the controversy as “strange” in an interview with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

Barca’s statement on Monday read: “Regarding the entry and search by the Catalan Police force this morning at the Camp Nou offices by order of the Instructing Court number 13 in Barcelona, which is in charge of the case relating to the contacting of monitoring services on social networks, FC Barcelona have offered up their full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.

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“The information and documentation requested by the judicial police force relate strictly to the facts relative to this case.”

Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claimed Barca paid I3 Ventures an inflated fee and put payments through in smaller, separate amounts to avoid the club’s financial controls.

Emili Rousaud, who resigned as Barcelona vice-president in March last year, said in an interview with RAC1 at the time: “If the auditors tell us the cost of these services is 100,000 euros and we have paid one million, it means someone has had their hand in the till.” The club took legal action against him.

Rousaud was among six Barca executives to leave their posts, with a joint letter citing the scandal as a key issue needing to be resolved.