As an election to install FC Barcelona’s new president looms this coming Sunday, the club saw its former president arrested Monday after Catalan authorities raided its offices.
Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned as club president last October, his adviser Jaume Masferrer, the club’s current CEO Oscar Grau, and head of legal services Roman Gomez Ponti were all arrested on Monday, and are believed to be in police detention.
FC Barcelona said it will fully comply with the investigations.
The arrests appear related to a scandal in which the club is alleged to have purposefully overpaid a marketing firm, I3 Ventures, to create social media smear campaigns targeting Barcelona players, including Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, former captain Xavi Hernandez, and two candidates to replace Bartomeu as club president. Investigations connected Facebook pages attacking those individuals to I3 Ventures.
The club denied the allegations, and terminated its relationship with I3. Catalan police also searched I3’s offices.
Last year, more than 20,000 fans signed a petition calling for Bartomeu to step down, triggering a referendum on his status. He resigned, along with the club’s entire board of directors, before the vote took place, and was replaced on an interim basis by Carles Tusquets.
FC Barcelona expects to lose a total of $600 million as a result of the pandemic. Messi, the club’s superstar, is rumored to be packing his bags for when he can exit his contract in June.