Cagey friends drag Catalan "dauphin" into a complex corruption inquiry

Close friendship discovered between Pujol and businessman suspect

Oriol Pujol, during an appearance in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.
Oriol Pujol, during an appearance in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.Toni Garriga (EFE)

They sometimes called him Zumosol, and at other times he was just referred to by his initials, O. P. But three businessmen and two high-ranking government officials, who are the targets of a judicial inquiry into public-contract fixing, had repeatedly suggested that Oriol Pujol Ferrusola, the secretary general of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), was a key figure in the alleged scheme.

Pujol has not been charged or officially named as a suspect in the case, which is being investigated by Barcelona Judge Silvia López Mejia. But in a ruling issued on September 11, Judge López wrote there were "rational indications" that Pujol played a key part in the conspiracy.

The charges against the five allege that they conspired to tamper with public bids for ITV vehicle inspection stations in Catalonia, obtain public subsidies, and push for changes in the energy sector that would benefit them.

In the case file reviewed by EL PAÍS, Pujol was described as "a necessary part" for this conspiracy to unfold. The son of former Catalan regional premier Jordi Pujol, the CDC lawmaker was "the man assigned to wield political influence" and make "moves at the opportune time" to "benefit" the businessmen's interests.

Surveillance recordings of telephone conversations demonstrate that there was a close relationship between Pujol and businessman Sergí Alsina, one of the targets in the case.

Pujol has not been charged or officially named as a suspect in the case.

Alsina and Pujol's wife, Ana Vidal Maragall, were partners at a business consulting firm, Alta Partners. Vidal reportedly gave Alsina questionable invoices for general work, which investigators say may be false.

In one tapped phone conversation, Vidal, who is not considered a suspect, asks Alsina how she should prepare the invoices, and what amounts and types of services performed should be included. The AEAT tax agency has investigated numerous invoices presented by Alsina and allegedly prepared by Pujol's wife.

In remarks made to a Catalan radio station on Thursday, Pujol said he was "disgusted by the fact that someone he knows" could link him to this corruption scheme. He said that he knew "some of the people" whose names are part of the investigation, but said he hadn't read the case file.

Among those who were on Alsina's "payroll" was Josep Tous, who last year was hired by the Catalonia government to "put some order" in the ITV department, which is swamped with judicial complaints. In one phone conversation, Alsina tells Tous that he could pay him some 2,000 euros.

Customs investigators believe that Tous is "Oriol Pujol's fix it man." The two have known each other for years - from the time they both studied at the acclaimed IESE Business School in Barcelona, and worked hand-in-hand during the past CDC administration until 2003.

Tous's appointment, along with that of Isidre Masalles, as deputy director of Industrial Security for the region, was, according to investigators, aimed at trying to get the ITV contracts annulled and then outsourced to Alsina through bid fixing. In order to do so, businessman Richard Puignou, another suspect in the case, challenged the contract awarded by the then-tripartite regional government in the courts before Catalan High Court Judge José Joaquín Ortiz Blasco.

Ortiz Blasco, who is also under investigation, issued the temporary injunction annulling the contract that Puignou was asking for, and soon afterwards Pujol telephoned Alsina. "They approved Ricard's injunction, which halts the bid."

Born in Barcelona in 1966, Pujol comes from a line of health experts. Besides his father Jordi, a physician who served as regional premier from 1980 to 2003, Pujol studied medicine, obtaining a veterinary license before going for his master's at IESE. He entered politics at an early age and has held a number of regional government posts since 1993. Pujol has long been considered his father's dauphin and is believed to be planning to one day run as Catalonia regional premier.

He served as a city council member in Barcelona representing the Catalan nationalist CiU bloc (the CDC and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya make up the bloc). Pujol now serves as a lawmaker in the regional parliament.

Since 2007, he has served as head of the CiU parliamentary bloc, and this year took over the secretary general's post of the CDC from Artur Mas, who is the current regional premier.

"I'm neither a part, nor am I in a pinch"

Pere Ríos, Barcelona

Oriol Pujol

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