The government is considering introducing measures against political corruption in a reform of the penal code, which could be announced in September. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration is expected to seek the support of opposition groups in parliament to have illegal party financing classified as a crime, but if a pact is not obtained the Popular Party (PP), will push through a proposal on its own, government sources said. Under current legislation, irregular funding is punishable only by economic sanctions: any party found to have filled its coffers illegally must forfeit double the amount received.
The PP is currently being investigated by the High Court over accusations it operated a system of illegal financing spanning two decades, receiving donations from businessmen in return for favorable adjudication in the award of public contracts. However, the reform the government is mulling will not be applicable to the ongoing case as any new legislation will not be retroactive in character.
EL PAÍS published secret ledgers in former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas’ handwriting earlier this year and it has been confirmed that the ruling conservative grouping operated a parallel accounting system during this period. Bárcenas’ books recorded more than eight million euros in illegal donations between 1990 and 2008, some of which was later allegedly used to make under-the-counter cash payments to top officials, including the current prime minister. Some of the recipients of money from the supposed slush fund have admitted to its existence, including former Balearic Islands premier Jaume Matas, who was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison in 2012.
The PP is currently being investigated over accusations it operated a system of illegal financing spanning two decades
The Justice Ministry has been working on a reform to the penal code for more than a year and it was passed at a Cabinet meeting last October. It is expected to be approved in the coming weeks and submitted to Congress for debate. Among the novelties connected to political corruption are sanctions for abuse of office and inflated charges for contracting services.
Misuse of public funds, often in the awarding of a public contract without compensation (in several of the cases uncovered to date payment for services that were never provided has been one of the main methods employed), will also be redrafted. It will not be necessary to prove that the official has enriched him or herself, but simply demonstrate abuse of position in the apportioning of public money.
The regulations for bribery will also be simplified to make their application easier. In order to prosecute, it will only need to be proven that a bribe has been received, without the need to prove a causal connection between payment of a bribe and the subsequent actions of a public office holder. In the case that a prosecution is successful, sentences of up to four years in prison could be handed down.
In the case of former Valencia regional premier, Francisco Camps, who was acquitted of accepting bribes in the form of tailored suits from the Gürtel corruption network, the PP politician successfully argued that he did not have the authority to award contracts to the ring and that he did not lean on any public worker to favor companies in their sphere of influence.
Under the proposed legislation, merely proving that Camps had received the suits from the Gürtel network would have been sufficient for the jury to find him guilty of accepting bribes.