KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The crisis swirling around debt-stricken Barcelona has deepened with a fraud squad raid on the club offices and the homes of several senior directors.

Initial reports stated that outgoing president Josep Maria Bartomeu had been arrested at his home over the so-called Barçagate scandal over allegations that funds were diverted from a conglomerate of companies (NS Group) hired for network monitoring.

Also arrested were Jaume Masferrer, who had been Bartomeu’s chief of staff, club ceo Òscar Grau and head of legal services Román Gómez Ponti.

Leo Messi . . . a focus of on-pitch controversy

Barcelona have been at the centre of financial turmoil ever since hidden contracts came to light over the signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar in 2013 and the subsequent court actions, later quashed, against former president Sandro Rossell.

In January the newspaper El Mundo claimed that the flagship club of the region of Catalonia was on the “verge of bankruptcy” after the latest annual loss of $117 million in 2020 had taken total debt to $1.4bn.

In addition the club has been riven by the unrest following captain Leo Messi’s vain attempt to force a transfer last year out of Barcelona and Spanish football. The team are currently second in LaLiga after Saturday’s 2-0 win away to Seville.

Staff expelled

Agents from the central area of e​conomic crimes of the criminal investigation division entered the club club at Camp Nou offices at eight o’clock this morning to launch a search of documentation.

Staff were ordered out of the building in the raid sparked by alerts raised by an audit of the previous board by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The police are trying to clarify, first, if the club paid a surcharge for the hiring of what the Barcelona government described as “network monitoring”, but also if any club individual benefited financially from the award of the contract.

According to PwC, Bartomeu had asked Masferrer and Grau to hire the investigation service, I3 Ventures, to orchestrate a social media campaign which attacked both opponents of Bartomeu and even players.

The newspaper El Mundo had reported last October that eight companies linked to NS Group, led by the Uruguayan businessman Carlos Ibáñez, had been paid €1.4m per year (€115,000 per month, plus an initial €27,500).

Grau reportedly renegotiating a price so that a total of €1.1m was paid in the 2017-18 season (€90,000 per month, plus the commissioning €27,500).

Apparently the contracts were structured for amounts of less than €200,000 each so that they did not need board approval.

Members will vote next Sunday in the elections for a new president. Favourite is Joan Laporta who led the club from 2003 to 2010.