Corruption scandal could bring down Spain’s government
13 July 2013
Last week the multimillionaire former treasurer of the ruling Popular Party (PP), Luis Bárcenas, was refused bail and remanded in custody pending trial on charges of corruption and tax evasion. He amassed a fortune worth tens of millions of euros hidden in foreign bank accounts, which were used to channel illegal payments from wealthy businessmen to PP ministers and officials.
This week, Spain’s second-largest circulation newspaper El Mundo published an interview between its editor Pedro J. Ramírez and Bárcenas.
Bárcenas has previously denied that it was his handwriting in a secret ledger detailing the payments, but admitted to Ramírez that he had lied and that he possessed a lot more incriminating documents that “could bring down the government.”
Ramírez revealed, “Luis Bárcenas told me that for at least the past 20 years, the PP has been illegally funded, receiving cash donations from builders and other entrepreneurs who in turn got contracts from the administrations ruled by the party.
“Bárcenas told me that what has hitherto been published is but a small part of the documentation in his possession”, and that there are, Ramirez continued, “other documents and hard drives that prove the systematic illegal financing of party campaigns.” El Mundo commented, “The Luis Bárcenas originals published by El Mundo today pulverise the alibi used until now by the PP to deny the authenticity of its former treasurer’s papers.”
The El Mundo revelations are the latest developments in a scandal which erupted early this year (See: “ Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy implicated in corruption scandal ”) when El País, a daily paper supportive of the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE), first published Bárcenas’ ledgers containing detailed accounts of party finances between 1990 and 2008.
Photocopies of the ledgers were apparently leaked to El País by Jorge Trías Sagnier, a disgruntled former PP deputy and legal consultant to Bárcenas. High Court Judge Pablo Ruz is investigating the ledgers as part of the massive, pre-existing “Gürtel” investigation (See: “ Spain: Popular Party embroiled in corruption scandal ”) in which local and regional PP officials are accused of awarding generous public contracts in return for kickbacks from leading businessmen.
Ruz’s investigation has discovered that Bárcenas possessed papers showing illegal funding of the PP from the day it was created in 1979, following the end of the Franco dictatorship and the transition to democracy. Then it was called the Alianza Popular (Popular Alliance, AP), headed by former Franco minister Manuel Fraga, providing a safe haven for the fascistic elements from the Franco dictatorship.
The Bárcenas ledgers include names and donations, which often violated Spain’s party financing law by exceeding the €60,000 limit from any one individual or company. There are single contributions of up to €250,000 and sums of €400,000 in one year from the same individual. The legal limit was surpassed on more than 30 occasions. In order to conceal their origin Bárcenas broke them down into smaller amounts and entered them as coming from anonymous donors.
Many of the donors were builders or developers on government contracts, including multinational builder OHL, the beneficiary of 215 public works contracts awarded by the PP, and whose chairman Juan Miguel Villar appears to have donated €530,000 to the party. Other construction companies involved are Azvy (€858,000), Sacyr Vallehermoso (€500,000) and Constructura Hispánica (€258,000).
The person who made the largest donations, a total of €1.15 million, is recorded as “José Luis Sánchez”, probably a reference to Andalusian real estate developer José Luis Sánchez Domínguez, chairman and founder of the Sando group. Other illegal donations are from people implicated in the Gürtel case such as Pablo Crespo, a former leading PP figure in Galicia.
From what has been revealed so far the secret party accounts show that millions in regular undeclared and untaxed payouts were handed to high-ranking members of the PP on top of their official salaries, which is forbidden by Spain’s Incompatibilities Law.
Rajoy appears to have received more than €320,000 during this 18-year period, including millions of pesetas (tens of thousands of euros) in illegal payments while he was Minister of Public Administration in José María Aznar’s PP government between 1997 and 1999.
Aznar also received monthly “bonuses”. According to a report sent by the Tax Agency to Judge Ruz, Aznar received 2.7 million pesetas (€16,755) in three payments after he was sworn in as prime minister in May 1996—in addition to his official salary of 12 million pesetas (€72,500) plus housing and maintenance allowances.
At least six other PP officials are being investigated for receiving “bonus” envelopes from the party over the course of several years. Congressional Deputy Eugenio Nasarre admitted to having received money, whilst Bárcenas was present, for his foundation, the Fundación Humanismo y Democracia (Humanism and Democracy Foundation), including two payments of €30,000 and €40,000 and bonuses of €1,800 a month. Nasarre is quoted as saying that the payment of bonuses was “generalized” and it was “normal” for them to be recorded as “anonymous”. The “bonus” payments received by Nasarre are about double the amount of what a Spanish worker would consider a good wage.
During his 30 years’ work for the PP, Bárcenas amassed and concealed a fortune estimated at €48 million, most of which ended up in Swiss bank accounts. He claims that none of this money came from PP donations or kickbacks but from overseas investments, real estate and art dealings, for which he is facing charges of bribery, fraud, tampering with evidence and cover-ups. He has been under investigation in the Gürtel probe since 2009.
Although Bárcenas stepped down as PP treasurer in 2010, he continued to be paid €250,000 a year—the highest salary paid by the party to any of its members—as a political consultant until January 31, the day El País published its revelations.
Now Bárcenas, according to one PP official, is the “caged bird about to sing”. Other PP leaders have expressed “great concern” that the Barcenas case “is doing terrible damage to the party and society itself”. The fact that El Mundo, which is sympathetic to the right-wing PP, publishes the Bárcenas interview is a sign that the knives are out to get the Rajoy leadership and replace it with a more hardline faction headed by someone like Esperanza Aguirre, former PP president of the Madrid region and a highly influential figure on the Spanish right. She openly criticized PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal for failing to defuse the corruption scandal and to sue Bárcenas earlier on.
Photo: Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx who is president of the French-speaking Socialists in Brussels. On June, 3th 2011 the newspaper Belang van Limburg wrote that 'Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx will possibly be the new Prime Minister of Brussels'.
As a reminder
Police to be investigated over links between paedophile case and politician's murder, reports Sarah Helm
10 September 1996
Brussels - The authorities were facing new demands yesterday to explain possible links between a child sex ring and high-level political corruption, following the arrest of a former Belgian government minister.
In an atmosphere of mounting crisis, the Belgian press yesterday cried out for answers, declaring a virtual state of emergency.
"What country are we living in?" asked a front-page editorial in La Derniere Heure. "The most corrupt banana republics would pass for islands of tranquillity in comparison with deviant Belgium, which we no longer recognise."
Le Soir newspaper called for suspicion to be lifted if public faith were to be restored in Belgian institutions.
Responding to the furore yesterday, Jean Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister said: "We have to investigate the investigation."
Alain Van der Biest was being held in a Belgian jail yesterday charged in connection with the 1991 murder of Andre Cools, who is widely believed to have been gunned down by gangsters on the orders of political rivals fearing he wanted to expose corruption.
The murder weapon used in the Cools killing was also reported to have been found late on Sunday near Liege. The sudden arrest of Mr Van der Biest, along with four other suspects arrested in the Cools case on Friday, is thought to have followed the production of new evidence during the Dutroux paedophile investigation.
Although no firm connection has been proven, certain names, associated with Belgium's Italian Mafia gangs to be found in the Charleroi region, have come to light in both inquiries. Suspicion has brought accusations that political figures may have had reason to hush up the Dutroux child sex scandal.
During the fast-moving developments at the weekend it was also announced that Raymond Brose, chief investigator in the Cools case, had suddenly resigned from his post without explanation.
Meanwhile, further names were added to the list of people now thought to have become victims of Dutroux. Four bodies, including those of two eight-year-olds and two teenagers, have so far been found, but it is now thought Dutroux may have murdered as many as 11. Government authorities are being pressed to declare whether the sudden spate of arrests in the Cools case, coming at the height of inquiries into the Dutroux case, is simply coincidence.
For five years Cools' murder has gone unsolved and the inquiry was thought to have run into the ground. Suspicion has fallen on gangster figures and politicians connected to the Socialist party in the French- speaking region of Wallonia, where Cools was a powerful figure.
But the Dutroux atrocities were also uncovered in this area, and inquiries have extended to webs of corruption including car thefts and property fraud in Wallonia.
The arrest of Mr Van der Biest followed the arrest of his former personal secretary, Richard Taxquet, who apparently denounced his boss to shift the blame, naming him as the man who ordered the Cools assassination.
However, the police are now being pressed to explain whether Mr Van der Biest could himself be a fall guy, protecting other, bigger names. No explanation has been given for the resignation of the chief investigator, which has further served to undermine confidence.
Inquiries into the Cools case have been constantly hampered by "the war of the judges" as rival investigators and police forces have fought for territory. Now there fears that such infighting could also have been part of an attempted cover-up.