CiU defends legal watchdog member caught with cash at Andorra border

Mercè Pigem resigns from CGPJ over what ruling Catalan bloc calls a superficial scandal

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Mercè Pigem in 2013 when she was a deputy for CiU.
Mercè Pigem in 2013 when she was a deputy for CiU.Uly Martín

The fact that a member of Spain’s legal watchdog was caught bringing €9,500 in cash into the country from neighboring Andorra, which is considered a tax haven, is a mere “image” problem, according to Catalonia’s ruling party.

Convergència i Unió (CiU), which nominated Mercè Pigem to her position on the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), made a public defense of her integrity after she decided to step down from the state body at the weekend.

Pigem said in a statement that she no longer felt “able to keep making the decisions” that go with her position.

An attorney by trade, Pigem was called in by CGPJ chairman Carlos Lesmes on Friday, following media reports that she and her sister had been caught at the border with large amounts of undeclared money.

While the legal limit for not declaring cash is €10,000 – meaning Pigem did not commit any crime – Carlos Lesmes asked her to resign because of the image her conduct projected at a time of great social sensitivity to politicians' behavior.

Pigem was asked to resign because of the image her conduct projected at a time of great sensitivity

CiU, which has been battling several corruption scandals in recent months, on Sunday sought to defend the “spotless personal and political career” of a woman who was a deputy for the nationalist bloc for four terms.

“In image terms, even though it may be legal, there may be things to consider,” said Jordi Turull, CiU’s parliamentary speaker, on Catalan radio station RAC1. “It was honorable of her to give up her position.”

Turull also suggested that Pigem was the victim of media persecution, possibly because she disagreed with other CGPJ members over the non-binding referendum on Catalan self-rule organized by CiU on November 9.

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“I don’t know whether it happens to other people that they go to Andorra and five minutes later they’re in the news,” he said.

The CiU spokesman in Spain’s Congress, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, also linked the resignation to the secession vote.

“If we weren’t in the middle of this political confrontation, this resignation wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “She committed no offense and no crime, she simply made a mistake. I’ve known Mercè Pigem for years as a deputy, and her career has been honest and bribe-proof.”

The issue of corruption within the ruling CiU is the main obstacle preventing a cross-party coalition of pro-sovereignty forces in the region, with a view to a joint run in the next regional elections. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) on Friday criticized that CiU and the Catalan Socialists keep stonewalling a parliamentary investigation into the alleged tax evasion committed by Jordi Pujol, a leading figure of modern Catalan nationalism and founder of Convergència, one half of the CiU bloc.

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