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Former president of FC Barcelona released after ‘Barçagate’ arrest

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A policeman enters the offices of the Barcelona Football Club on March 01, 2021 in Barcelona during a police operation inside the building
A policeman enters the offices of the Barcelona Football Club on March 01, 2021 in Barcelona during a police operation inside the building   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP
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The former president of FC Barcelona has been granted “provisional release” from police custody, after he was arrested on Monday over an alleged smear campaign against figures at the club.

Josep Maria Bartomeu was among four people to be arrested when police raided the club’s stadium Camp Nou, as part of an investigation into the "Barçagate" scandal.

"Barçagate" is an alleged smear campaign, which the courts have been investigating since May.

The Catalan high court said on Tuesday Bartomeu and his former right-hand man Jaume Masferrer, who spent the night in custody, had been granted “provisional release” by the judge in charge of the case, while the investigation “remains open”.

Two of the club's current directors, general manager Oscar Grau, and legal director Roman Gomez Ponti, were also arrested before being released on Monday evening.

‘Barçagate’ smear campaign

The arrests were over an alleged smear campaign against people at the club who were critical of the president, with victims including Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué, former coach Pep Guardiola, and the former club president Joan Laporta.

Laporta is in the running to be the next president, with the election just five days away.

The allegations were first made in February last year by Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, which claimed the company I3 Ventures had received a million euros from the club - way above market price - officially to monitor the image of the club on social networks.

Bartomeu defended himself over Barçagate at the time, saying: "Have they been asked to monitor social networks? The answer is yes. Have they been instructed to discredit people or institutions on social networks? The answer is no. And we will prosecute all those who accuse us of that."

Criticised by a large section of the club's supporters, players and members, Bartomeu and his entire board of directors resigned at the end of October.

The club stated that it had "offered its full collaboration" to the court after yesterday’s arrests.

FC Barcelona has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.