A police operation is ongoing at Barcelona football club and several arrests have been made, a police spokesperson said.
“We are in the process of carrying out an operation right now with agents of the financial crimes unit,” a police spokesman told AFP news agency without specifying the number of arrests made or their identities.
Barcelona said in a statement that it was cooperating with the police and legal authorities into the investigation. It said the case was related “to the contacting of monitoring services on social networks.”
“FC Barcelona expresses its utmost respect for the judicial process in place and for the principle of presumed innocence for the people affected within the remit of this investigation” the statement said.
According to Spanish media reports, those detained included former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, CEO Oscar Grau and the club’s head of legal services Roma Gomez Ponti.
The investigation stems from the ‘Barcagate’ affair last year, 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 Bartomeu.
In October last year, Bartomeu resigned along with the board of directors.
The police raid comes less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.
The football club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve heard from one of the [Barcelona club president] candidates today Joan Laporta, a former president himself of Barcelona … that what we’re seeing today is a consequence at the bad management of the club,” the Associated Press news agency’s global correspondent Rob Harris told Al Jazeera.
“So much of that perhaps relates to the handling of the biggest player of them all, Lionel Messi,” he added.
The Argentine was reportedly among those targeted in the Barcagate scandal, in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against him and other players who were critical of the club and then-president Bartomeu. Messi described the controversy as “strange” in an interview with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.
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 club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.
Messi tried to leave Barca last August via a release clause in his contract but eventually decided to stay in order to avoid a court case with the club.