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Jail without bail

Anti-corruption prosecutors, a judge and the Swiss authorities corner the PP’s ex-treasurer

The decision to send the multimillionaire Luis Bárcenas to prison without bail is a justified one on the basis that he is an evident flight risk and could attempt to tamper with or destroy evidence. Judge Pablo Ruz is not known for the rashness of his decisions or for seeking the limelight. Evidence of tax evasion, involvement in bribery, money laundering, attempted fraud and falsification of commercial documents has been steadily stacking up against the former Popular Party (PP) treasurer, although the determining factors were the allegedly fraudulent sales of artworks and the suspicion that Bárcenas has been transferring money from Swiss accounts to others in the United States and Uruguay. The evidence of wrongdoing is such that the prosecutor is asking for Bárcenas to put up a bond of 28 million euros as a guarantee that funds will be available to cover eventual fines and repayments.

Rather than wondering why the former PP financial manager is now in jail, it would be more interesting to consider why it did not come about sooner. Despite being an official target of the Gürtel corruption probe for the past four years, Bárcenas was only subject to extremely light precautionary measures, such as needing court permission to leave the country.

The silence of the ruling party does nothing to lessen the significance of the case. Indeed, since EL PAÍS began to reveal the contents of Bárcenas’ handwritten ledgers — containing details on cash donations to the party and bonus salaries for leading officials — the PP has been extremely cautious in its official pronouncements in relation to its former moneyman, whom, it is interesting to recall, was receiving “deferred compensation” for supposedly having been removed from his post until January 31 of this year. A senior spokesman this week claimed that the courts had embarked on a “witch hunt” against the PP, but more sensible party members such as the Basque leader Arantza Quiroga have been far nearer the mark. In the presence of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the Basque PP president drew an unfavorable comparison between the risks run by party activists in her region during the direst years of ETA violence with the corruption of another place and time.

There is no witch hunt against the PP, but rather a series of developing investigations which, taken together, may eventually unravel the tightly woven web of corruption that was the Gürtel network and its offshoots. Another cause for satisfaction is the increasing judicial cooperation between states, notably on the part of Switzerland in this case. Little by little chinks are appearing in the wall of banking secrecy, which has protected white-collar criminals for so long. Bárcenas can bear witness to these advances: it would have been impossible to disentangle the web of companies created to disguise the exponential and implausible rise in Bárcenas’ personal fortune without the meticulous work of the Spanish judge and anti-corruption prosecutors, together with the cooperation of the Swiss authorities.

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