POPULAR PARTY SCANDALS

Top construction firms implicated in Bárcenas papers investigation

Businessmen will have to answer questions on alleged illegal donations to PP

The investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the party in power, including illegal financing and secret cash donations to party chiefs, is now extending to some of Spain’s biggest business leaders.

High Court Judge Pablo Ruz has named eight current or former executives — including three from leading construction companies OHL, Sacyr Vallehermoso and FCC — as official suspects in the case.

Between May 21 and 29, all eight will have to tell the court whether they made illegal donations to the ruling Popular Party (PP), as reflected in secret ledgers kept by former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, and revealed by EL PAÍS on January 31.

The handwritten accounts, which reflect incoming and outgoing funds between 1990 and 2008, show donors’ names and the full amounts donated, which often violated party financing law on two counts: first, they went over the 60,000-euro limit for any one individual or company; second, many donors were builders or developers who were simultaneously getting government contracts, which constitutes a conflict of interest. There are single contributions of up to 250,000 euros, and the same individual donated 400,000 euros in one year. The legal limit was surpassed on more than 30 occasions.

Business executives will deny making donations shown in Bárcenas’ accounts

After putting Bárcenas through a handwriting test, the police were able to authenticate the ledgers, leading the judge to call donors in for questioning. Meanwhile, several well-known PP politicians will have to explain why they show up on Bárcenas’ accounts as recipients of cash-filled envelopes, which apparently served as untaxed bonuses on top of their regular salaries. These include Senate speaker Pío García Escudero and ex-Balearic Islands premier Jaume Matas.

This investigation, which is an offshoot of Gürtel — a major bribes-for-contracts scandal — seeks to determine whether the PP accepted illegal donations from business leaders and whether that money was subsequently used to pay secret bonuses to party chiefs. In his statements to anti-corruption prosecutors last February, Bárcenas admitted to the existence of these bonuses, but described them as “representation expenses” subject to income tax. Judge Ruz is also investigating whether the money was donated in exchange for government contracts or other favors from PP leaders.

A comparison of the PP’s official and unofficial accounts shows that Bárcenas deliberately broke up all donations above 60,000 euros into smaller amounts before depositing the money in a special donation account at Banco de Vitoria. This was done to circumvent the legal limit and ensure the Audit Court, which checks party accounts, would not flag the illegal amounts. The PP has fallen back on the Audit Court’s approval of its official accounts as “proof” of no wrongdoing.

Sources close to the probe say the business executives will deny having made the donations shown in Bárcenas’ accounts, as they did to this newspaper.

Bárcenas, once a powerful figure within the PP, has fallen from grace since he was expelled following his alleged involvement in Gürtel. Since then, the former treasurer has featured in a series of scandals, including the revelation that at one point he held over 20 million euros in Swiss banks.