Veteran Galician PP boss defies attorneys to make corruption claims stick

José Luis Baltar called himself a “father” to his voters and handed over his post to his son

José Luis Baltar takes the applause at a party event in Ourense.
José Luis Baltar takes the applause at a party event in Ourense.NACHO GÓMEZ

An extensive investigation by the Anti-corruption Attorney's Office has failed to intimidate José Luis Baltar, a Popular Party (PP) strongman in the northwestern region of Galicia who accumulated considerable wealth and power over two decades through unlawful behavior, according to the complaint.

"He who laughs last laughs best," retorted the veteran politician when a radio journalist asked him about the investigation. "Let them have a good go at it, and we'll see each other around." Baltar, who retired in January at age 70 after passing on his power as head of the provincial authority of Ourense to his son, José Manuel Baltar Blanco, has refused to explain how he accumulated assets that include a collection of 100 vintage automobiles and numerous properties.

He is also thought to have abused his position of authority to give hundreds of people lifetime jobs in public agencies and awarding millions of euros of public money based on criteria of kinship and cronyism. In exchange, Baltar obtained faithful supporters who voted him in again and again.

Far from feeling contrite, Baltar seems proud of his record and has repeatedly described himself as "a good cacique," a term used for local political bosses who manage to subvert the democratic system in their area of influence. At other times, Baltar has called himself "a father" to all the people he has "helped." He was known for showing up at all kinds of events, even funerals, and picking up the entire tab at bars where he went in for a drink. His pockets were always full of money.

He who laughs last laughs best; let them have a good go at it”

Investigators have evidence of individuals being irregularly signed up as voting members of a PP congress that voted in Baltar's son as the new party chief in Ourense.

Just five months after he stepped down from politics, the anti-corruption attorney received reams of documents evidencing decades' worth of misconduct. According to the complaint, seen by EL PAÍS, the charismatic politico accumulated a considerable fortune that suggests he may not only have used public money to help others, but to help himself as well.

The complaint holds, among other things, that some of the cars in his collection were "acquired" in exchange for giving certain individuals jobs in the provincial authority. The documents also show a list of candidates for four janitor posts, with handwritten notes by Baltar regarding the candidates' kinship to mayors and councilors in the province. The names of the winners are marked with crosses.

The plaintiff also shows documented evidence of how over 20 people were signed up just ahead of the PP congress that gave the Ourense chapter to Baltar's son. These voting members were added to the rolls after the deadline for doing so had ended.

There is also a list of public subsidies worth 253,000 euros awarded arbitrarily by Baltar for five consecutive years to Emprende Ourense, a company with no known activity and which is owned by one of his son's closest friends.

Baltar started out as a schoolteacher in the village of Luintra, and became mayor in 1976, winning absolute majorities until 1987, when he reached the top of the provincial body. He remained there for 20 years before retiring. He was fêted by the regional premier of Galicia and even Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who once said of him that "Baltar is the PP."

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