Barcelona coach Koeman says club image damaged, admitting he was devastated by arrest of former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu as Barca prepares for Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at home to Sevilla.

Catalan police enter FC Barcelona's offices in Barcelona, Spain, Monday March 1, 2021.
Catalan police enter FC Barcelona's offices in Barcelona, Spain, Monday March 1, 2021. (AP)

Former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has been conditionally released after appearing before a judge looking into last year's "Barcagate" scandal, just days before the club holds presidential elections.

Bartomeu and his former advisor Jaume Masferrer exercised their right not to speak when they were questioned by the judge following a night in jail, the Barcelona court said in a statement.

Police arrested the pair along with two other club officials, and searched Barcelona's stadium, on Monday as part of a probe into allegations the club carried out a defamation campaign against current and former players who were critical of Bartomeu.

READ MORE: Police search FC Barcelona clubs offices, make several arrests

Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claimed in February 2020 that Barca covered up inflated payments to a company called I3 Ventures which it had hired to boost the image of the club on social media.

Part of the social media campaign included criticising current and former players like Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez, and iconic coach Pep Guardiola.

Messi described the controversy as "strange" in an interview with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

Cadena Ser claimed Barca made its payments to I3 Ventures in smaller, separate amounts to avoid the club's financial controls.

READ MORE: Barcelona president under pressure after six officials resign

Emili Rousaud, who resigned as Barcelona vice-president in March last year, said in an interview with RAC1 at the time: "If the auditors tell us the cost of these services is 100,000 euros and we have paid one million, it means someone has had their hand in the till."

The club took legal action against him.

'Bartomeu arrest bad for Barca image'

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said he was badly affected by the arrest of former President Josep Maria Bartomeu and called the man who hired him as manager an "exceptional person", while conceding the case was damaging for the club's reputation.

Bartomeu, who hired Koeman last August but resigned in October to avoid facing a vote of no-confidence, was detained on Monday along with CEO Oscar Grau in a probe related to allegations of improper management and business corruption.

The pair were released on Tuesday although the investigation, which began last year before Koeman joined as coach, remains open.

"When I heard the news I was devastated because I know Bartomeu and Grau well," Koeman told a news conference ahead of Barca's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at home to Sevilla, when they will be hoping to overturn a 2-0 deficit.

READ MORE: Griezmann double takes Barca back from the dead to reach Copa semis

"I feel bad for them, I had good moments with them in a short space of time and Bartomeu has always been an exceptional person to me.

"It's not good for the image of the club but we have to wait and see what happens (with the investigation). I wasn't here then so I can't talk about it, we just have to focus on our job and in turning the tie around tomorrow."

Barca have been in the hands of an interim management committee led by acting President Carles Tusquets since Bartomeu resigned but members will elect a new leader in an election on Sunday.

Bartomeu's arrest is the latest episode in a long line of institutional problems the club has experienced in the last year, including a growing financial crisis, but Koeman said he had no regrets in accepting the job as coach.

"You never know what's going to happen in the future. When Barca called me I was convinced I had to take the job," he said.

"I knew it was a difficult moment, the club was losing money and had to make changes to the squad and put its faith in young players but I have tried to do my best and what I felt was right. Life is full of ups and downs and opportunities and problems and you have to try and resolve them."

Barca beat Sevilla 2-0 away on Saturday in La Liga and have been boosted by teenage midfielder Pedri making a quick recovery from a muscle injury although defender Ronald Araujo is a serious doubt. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies