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Barcelona threaten legal action against former vice president who claimed high-ranking theft

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Lowe: Messi is not happy with Barcelona (1:52)

Sid Lowe analyses Lionel Messi's demeanor over the last few months to explain the star's discontent at Barca. (1:52)

Barcelona have threatened to take legal action against a former vice president who claimed a high-ranking executive has been taking money out of the club.

Emili Rousaud, who was among six board members to resign this week, suggested on Friday that someone inside the club "had their hands in the till." Pressed on who, he said he could not be sure.

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Barca responded angrily to Rousaud's comments, with the internal politics at the club continuing to be played out in public.

"In light of the serious and unfounded allegations made this morning, FC Barcelona categorically deny any action that could be described as corruption, and therefore reserve the right to take the necessary legal action," a hastily released statement read.

There have been problems bubbling under the surface for a while at Camp Nou, but things have grown more heated since the revelation in February that Barca paid a third-party company to smear players, potential presidents and club legends online.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu denied any knowledge of the Facebook accounts in question and rescinded the club's contract with the company, I3 Ventures, who he said had been contracted to monitor social media.

Speaking after his resignation, Rousaud said in various interviews on Thursday the value of the contract with I3 Ventures was inflated and had been broken down to avoid internal controls. He then added that an executive -- although not someone on the board of directors -- had been making money on the deal.

Barca have ordered an external audit into the relationship with I3 Ventures. Friday's statement added that "the audit is still ongoing and therefore without conclusions."

Rousaud's comments have increased the pressure on Bartomeu. As well as in-fighting among his board of directors, he's also struggling to manage unhappy supporters and players. Some fans have called for his resignation in recent home matches, waving white hankies in his direction.

Lionel Messi, meanwhile, has been among the players to criticise the club's hierarchy. He engaged in a war of words with sporting director Eric Abidal in February when the Frenchman blamed the players for former coach Ernesto Valverde's dismissal.

The Argentine was then the first player to release a statement last week announcing that the squad would take a 70% wage cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the statement, the players expressed "surprise" that people inside the club, in reference to the board, had tried to put pressure on them during the negotiations.

Sources have told ESPN that the players' unhappiness over the leaks led Bartomeu to ask four directors to resign this week.

Those four directors, including two of his vice presidents, Rousaud and Enrique Tombas, responded by resigning on Thursday, along with another two directors. They released a letter citing disagreements over how the club is being run by Bartomeu.

They also called for the club to bring forward elections, coronavirus permitting, to this summer. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2021. Bartomeu will not be able to run as he has already served two terms.

A source inside the club's hierarchy said that Bartomeu is not too concerned by the resignations, given he had already asked four of them to step down. He has no plans to quit or advance elections and will move forward with a restructuring of the board in the coming days.

The source added that the president wants to surround himself with "people he trusts" as the club face the uncertainty of having to deal with the financial repercussions of the coronavirus crisis in the final year of his mandate.