With less than a week to go for the crucial Presidential elections, Spanish police entered FC Barcelona’s stadium on Monday in a search and seize operation and have made arrests after an investigation into financial issues, with reports suggesting that former President Josep Maria Bartomeu is among those arrested.
The club confirmed local authorities from Mossos d’Esquadra’s Economic Offences Unit were at the team’s headquarters on Monday morning and said they were collaborating with the police into the investigation into the club contracting monitoring services on social networks.
“FC Barcelona expresses 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” added the statement.
"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," the club added.
The Spanish media have said that the operation was related to last year’s ‘Barcagate,’ in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign on social media against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Bartomeu, current chief executive Òscar Grau, and Barcelona’s head of legal services, Román Gómez Pontí have been arrested on suspicion of “unfair administration, corruption between individuals and money laundering,” according to The Guardian.
A spokesman for the local police also confirmed to ESPN that "arrests are taking place but we cannot give names. We are in the process of carrying out an operation at the moment with agents from the financial crimes unit."
The club had denied the allegations regarding the smear campaign and and rescinded their contract with I3 Ventures, the company behind the social media accounts.
'Barcagate' broke out in February when the Cadena Ser radio network revealed that the club had used an outside company called "13 Ventures" to criticise the club's players and rivals of the Board of Directors through a series of social media accounts.
The payments to 13 Ventures are alleged to be six times the usual market price, with payments of around a million euros divided into smaller amounts in order to avoid internal controls.
The online criticism is one reason for the breakdown of the relationship between Bartomeu and star player Lionel Messi, who asked for a transfer last summer.
An external audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers later had given Barcelona the clean chit and found that the club did not pay an inflated price for a number of services with I3, absolving the club of any corruption on a financial level.
The local police however reopened the case last year and had raided the stadium in June as well
Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Lionel Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 20,000 Barcelona members have already cast their vote via postal ballot. The three candidates for the Presidential election on 7 March are Victor Font, Joan Laporta and Toni Freia.
(With Inputs from ESPN, The Guardian and AP)
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