Former Barcelona president Bartomeu arrested in stadium raid

International

FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2019, file photo, President of FC Barcelona Josep Bartomeu pauses during and interview with the Associated Press at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain. Spanish police entered Barcelona’s stadium on Monday March 1, 2021 and detained some people in a search and seize operation related to an investigation into club officials. The operation was related to last year’s “Barçagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

MADRID (AP) — Spanish police detained several people after raiding Barcelona’s stadium on Monday in a search and seizure operation.

The operation was related to last year’s “Barçagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody.

The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail.

Spanish media said Bartomeu and other former club officials were among those detained.

A text message sent to Bartomeu was not immediately answered.

The detentions come less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.

One of the three presidential candidates, Joan Laporta, told Lleida Radio that what happened on Monday “was a consequence of the bad management by the previous administration.” He said the news of Bartomeu’s reported detention was “shocking” and “not good” for the club, but noted that the former president deserved the “presumption of innocence.”

Court officials said a judge ordered the search and seize operation but the detentions had been made at the discretion of the police agents involved. Authorities said the operation was being carried out by the police’s financial crimes department.

Barcelona had denied accusations that it hired — and overpaid — a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.

The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club. Some of the figures supposedly included players such Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.

The club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.

Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The club has been managed by a caretaker board since Bartomeu left in October while facing a no-confidence motion supported by thousands of club members furious at the team’s poor performances and the club’s financial situation.

The club’s struggles began to surface after the team’s embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season, which was the first without a title for the Spanish club since 2007-08.

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