Former Barcelona chief Josep Bartomeu released day after arrest

Court says Bartomeu and a former adviser had made use of their right not to give a statement in court

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Former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was released on Tuesday, a Barcelona court said, a day after he was arrested in a probe related to allegations of improper management and business corruption.

The statement said Bartomeu, president between 2014-20, and his former adviser Jaume Masferrer, had made use of their right not to give a statement in court and the judge had agreed to their provisional release.

The court said the judge had sought to question them as part of an investigation opened in May 2020 into the suspected crimes of false administration and business corruption.

Catalan police raided the offices of Barcelona on Monday, making four arrests in what they described "an investigation into alleged crimes related to property and the socio-economic order".

Barcelona CEO Oscar Grau and legal services director Roman Gomez Ponti were detained and later released on Monday while Bartomeu and Masferrer spent the night in a Barcelona police station.

The club's offices at their Camp Nou stadium were one of five properties searched by police during the operation.

The raids came just six days before the club's presidential elections to decide on Bartomeu's successor. Club members will choose between former president Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.

The so-called 'Barcagate' scandal involves allegations that the club covered up payments made to a company called I3 Ventures, hired to boost the image of the club on social media.

Part of the social media campaign included criticising current and former players such as Lionel Messi and Xavi, as well as two-time Champions League-winning coach Pep Guardiola. Messi described the controversy as "strange" in an interview with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claimed in February 2020 that Barca paid I3 Ventures an inflated fee and put payments through in smaller, separate amounts to avoid the club's financial controls.

Bartomeu maintained the company had been hired only to monitor posts on social media and announced an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which cleared the club of financial corruption in July.

He resigned in October, avoiding a vote of no confidence triggered after more than 20,000 club members signed a petition against him.

Bartomeu's departure came in the same month Barcelona announced losses of €97 million ($114 million) for last season and following a dramatic decline in performances on the pitch as well as a personal falling-out with Messi.