Barcelona ex-president arrested in connection with alleged smear campaign against Lionel Messi, other players

Henry Bushnell
·2 min read
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Former FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was arrested Monday in connection with "Barcagate," the scandal in which the club allegedly paid a third-party marketing firm to defame its own players on social media.

Catalan police raided Barcelona's offices on Monday morning as part of a fresh investigation into accusations of a smear campaign, which allegedly targeted Lionel Messi and others.

Barcelona said in a statement Monday that it has "offered up [its] full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation."

After seizing documents from Barca's offices, police then reportedly arrested Bartomeu and at least three others: club CEO Oscar Grau, former presidential adviser Jaume Masferrer, and chief legal counsel Roman Gomez Ponti.

Former FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu oversaw a tumultuous few years at the Spanish soccer club. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Former FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu oversaw a tumultuous few years at the Spanish soccer club. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

What is the 'Barcagate' scandal?

Around a year ago, a patchwork trail of evidence led to allegations that Barcelona officials had paid I3 Ventures, a local PR consultancy, to disparage players and others who had been critical of club leadership. Social media accounts were allegedly created or weaponized to tarnish the reputations of prominent figures such as Messi and Gerard Pique.

The scandal erupted as those in and around the club sparred over who was responsible for Barcelona's decline. On the field, last season, the team slumped to its worst league finish since 2007-08, and didn't win a single major trophy. Off the field, the club is more than a billion euros in debt.

Bartomeu was considered chiefly responsible for that decline, and for ruining the club's relationship with Messi. Messi, who has spent his entire career with Barca, asked forcefully to leave the club this past summer. He had been a target of some social media posts, as had Pique, a veteran defender, who called the alleged smear campaign "outrageous."

Is Barcelona guilty?

An independent audit conducted last year did not find conclusive evidence of wrongdoing. Police, however, are digging in further. They first raided Barca's offices last June. Monday's raid appears to be the most significant yet.

Bartomeu, meanwhile, has since resigned, along with the rest of the club's board in October. The presidential election to find his successor will take place later this week.

More from Yahoo Sports: