OVIEDO, Spain – Catalan police raided the offices of Barcelona football club on Monday and arrested high ranking officials including the team’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
According to multiple media reports, the club’s CEO Oscar Grau and legal director Roman Gomez were also detained.
The raids and arrests are related to the so-called Barca-gate scandal, according to broadcaster Cadena Ser, in which the football club’s executives allegedly launched smear campaigns against outspoken critics of their management, including famous players Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.
The scandal was exposed by Cadena Ser in February 2020, which won an investigative reporting award for the story.
It found that FC Barcelona’s executives hired a local company that created fake social media accounts to discredit or undermine the targeted individuals. FC Barcelona’s payments to the company allegedly did not follow the legal and financial protocol.
The Spanish football club “robustly denied” any relationship to the fake social media accounts, although six members of the management board resigned during the fallout.
Last summer, after a poor season, a bitter public battle broke out between Messi, the team’s top player, and Bartomeu.
Messi even said he wanted to leave the team, but was denied that option by management. He later accused Bartomeu of breaking promises.
Sentiment built-up against Bartomeu within fans and players to the point that the former president stepped down in October before a vote of no confidence threatened to relieve him of his position.
Next Sunday, the club is set to elect a new president to replace the interim leader.
FC Barcelona and the Catalan police are yet to comment on Monday’s raid.