Police raided Barcelona football club on Monday, arresting the club’s former president, general manager and main lawyer as the football giant’s struggles turned into a crisis in its own right.
According to Spanish media, police arrested Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned as president of FC Barcelona in October, Oscar Grau, club CEO, and Roman Gómez Ponti, general counsel.
The club said it was offering its “full cooperation to judicial and law enforcement authorities to help bring out the facts that are under investigation.” He added that he had “great respect for the judicial process in place and for the principle of the presumption of innocence of those concerned in the context of this investigation”.
The investigation is linked to what the Spanish media are calling Barçagate – allegations, denied by the club, that he corruptly hired outside groups to defame Bartomeu’s opponents on Facebook.
The raid and arrests come as Barcelona, the world’s highest paying football club, struggle to regain a foothold.
Bartomeu resigned after a breakdown in relations with star player Lionel Messi, a series of indifferent results on the pitch and a financial crisis, the pandemic plunging the club into a loss of 100 million euros last year and an urgent need to cope growing debt of over € 1 billion.
Last month’s revelations in Spanish newspaper El Mundo about Messi’s hugely lucrative contract – worth more than € 555million over four years – caused further drops at the club as the Argentinian player remains without a commitment for his future beyond this season.
The club have confirmed Monday’s police raid – the second since July – while refusing to confirm any arrests. Local police confirmed arrests had been made, but did not confirm any names.
No charges have been laid and Bartomeu, the club and others involved in the case, which is under investigation by a Barcelona court, have all denied any wrongdoing.
The three men and another person who was reportedly arrested could not be reached for comment.
The election to replace Bartomeu, with the 140,000 club members voting on his successor, is due to take place on Sunday.
“Too many people want to hurt Barca,” Toni Freixa, one of the three candidates for the post, wrote on Twitter after the raid. “We will not allow it.”
In July, the club released a declaration, based on a report carried out by PwC, claiming to have contracted “various services related to the monitoring and analysis of social networks [that] did not include any defamatory campaign directed against third parties ”, and that no corrupt behavior has taken place in relation to the contracts, which total € 1.1 million for the 2017-18 season and € 947,700 for each of the two following seasons.
The procurement process was initiated by Bartomeu, managed by Grau and legally approved by Gómez Ponti.
The PwC report found that “some of the vendors. . . have the same head office, their social objectives not being linked to the object of the service subscribed, they have a small number of employees or they do not have a website ”.
The PwC report said the general purpose of the contracts was to let the club know about the “conversation” on social media so that they could “establish a communications strategy. . . this would allow the club to preserve its reputation and interests ”.
He added that he could not “verify the actual provision” of services for an amount of € 37,000 invoiced by one of the contractors for an additional order “for which a contract had not been signed and had not undergone any procurement process and / or received any authorization ”.
In the wake of the PwC report, the club’s board said in July that it “if necessary, will take legal action against those who have made false and unfounded accusations that have severely damaged the image of the club. institution and those who are part of it “.