Former Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu, chief executive Oscar Grau and legal head Roman Ponti have been arrested by the police for their role in the much-talked-about BarcaGate scandal, where the Spanish club reportedly hired and overpaid a company to smear some of the club’s footballers, including Lionel Messi, and political opponents.
Police on Monday raided the offices of FC Barcelona while carrying several arrests. The massive development comes just six days ahead of Barcelona presidential elections, a Catalan regional police spokesman told AFP.
Spain’s Cadena Ser radio reported that one of those arrested was former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who had resigned in October 2020, along with CEO Oscar Grau and the club’s head of legal services. However, the police said that the operation was being run by officers from the financial crimes unit.
In 2020, it was claimed that the Spanish giants had paid a whopping sum to a social media company in a bid to carry online criticism of important club figures in what turned out to be a scandalous ‘Barcagate’.
Allegedly, the likes of Lionel Messi, Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Gerard Pique were among those targeted by I3 Ventures in a three-year smear campaign’. The reason behind the attacks included Messi’s reluctance to pen a new deal at the Camp Nou while iconic defender Pique was attacked for his project to revamp the Davis Cup.
However, Barcelona’s then-president Bartomeu had denied the accusations. However, eight Barcelona members decided to launch an official police complaint which resulted in an investigation.
Emili Rousaud, who resigned as Barcelona vice president in March last year, said in an interview with RAC1: “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 controversy as a key issue needing to be resolved.
Bartomeu said the company had been hired only to monitor posts on social media and announced an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which cleared the club of financial corruption in July.
“Let one thing be clear,” Bartomeu said. “To the question: Have we commissioned the monitoring of social networks? The answer is yes.
“To the question: Have we commissioned to discredit people or institutions through social networks? The answer is no and we will take action against all those who accuse us of that.”