Former Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who has spent the last 19 months in preventive custody, was expected to be released from prison later Thursday after family members posted a €200,000 bail.
High Court Judge Pablo Ruz signed the release order after Bárcenas’s lawyer Javier Gómez de Liaño handed over copies of bank deposits and transfers reflecting that the bail had been paid.
Under the conditions of his release, the former PP senator, who faces a wide range of corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion charges, will have to report three days a week to the High Court and is prohibited from leaving the country.
Bárcenas’s son said the way the PP had treated his father throughout his ordeal had been “deplorable”
His family, along with scores of journalists and photographers, gathered at the entrance of Soto del Real penitentiary outside Madrid on Thursday afternoon waiting for him to emerge. Guillermo Bárcenas, the defendant’s son, said his father was calm and that the family was now “stronger than ever” since the PP corruption scandal broke.
His release has sparked concerns among many PP officials, who know they are facing a tough election year amid ongoing graft investigations and fear that a media circus will break out while Bárcenas is out on bail.
Among the nine family members who put up the money are Bárcenas’s siblings, aunt, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. The money was paid in five installments totaling €110,000, while the rest was deposited at a bank branch.
Judge Ruz ordered Bárcenas jailed in June 2013 after considering him a flight risk because of the fortunes prosecutors allege the former treasurer holds in Switzerland, United States, the Bahamas and Uruguay.
He is also facing trial in relation to the far-reaching Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case in which 60 of the 170 people facing charges are former PP officials, including three ex-treasurers, 11 ex-lawmakers and six former mayors.
Judge Ruz granted Bárcenas’s request for bail after he determined that the Gürtel investigation was in its final phase and ready for trial. The massive corruption ring was purportedly organized by a group of businessmen headed by Francisco Correa who paid kickbacks to PP government officials in Madrid, Valencia and Castilla-La Mancha in exchange for contracts between 1999 and 2005. Prosecutors are asking for a 42-year prison term for Bárcenas.
As his release became imminent, PP officials reaffirmed their commitment to fighting party corruption and played down acknowledgements made by Bárcenas in the past that he kept secret ledgers that purportedly recorded all cash contributions and donations to the PP that went unreported.
The ledgers that Bárcenas has admitted to keeping – first published by EL PAÍS in January 2013 – also reflect bonus payments to high-ranking PP officials, including Rajoy and secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal, on top of their regular salaries. Bárcenas has acknowledged their authenticity.
Speaking to reporters, De Cospedal on Wednesday reiterated that the party never kept any secret accounting files. “If there was a secret parallel account, then it belonged to the person who was keeping it,” she said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who once protected Bárcenas, also distanced himself from his party’s former treasurer on the eve of his release. “It has been a long time since that person has been connected to the PP. We have explained our position, and what we will do is present various initiatives so that these things are not repeated in Spain in the future,” Rajoy said.
Bárcenas’s son Guillermo said the way the PP had treated his father throughout his ordeal had been “deplorable.”
For his part, Bárcenas challenged the PP to file charges against him if officials believe he stole money, as Justice Minister Rafael Catalá recently suggested.
“What the Justice Minister must do is convince the party to file a complaint against Mr Bárcenas if he thinks there was embezzlement,” the defendant said on Wednesday during testimony he gave via video conference to a Balearic parliamentary committee investigating graft allegations.