Saying that the ruling Popular Party (PP) has no reason to fear him, the organization’s former treasurer Luis Bárcenas was released from prison Thursday night – 10 hours after his family posted a €200,000 bail as ordered by the High Court.
The former senator, who was once one of the most powerful politicians in Spain and now faces an array of criminal charges, emerged from Soto del Real prison where he had been held in preventive custody for the past 19 months. Wearing a sport coat, tie and sweater, Bárcenas walked gingerly toward a waiting vehicle alongside his son, Guillermo.
A throng of reporters surrounded him, pointing microphones in his face as they waited for a statement. Upbeat – perhaps because he has regained his freedom albeit with certain restrictions – Bárcenas wasted no time in launching a barrage of messages at his former PP colleagues, who have publicly distanced themselves from him since investigations got underway into his personal wealth and alleged illegal party activities.
Bárcenas had nothing good to say about jail officials whom he accused of “persecution”
“I have nothing to say to [Prime Minister] Mariano Rajoy. But I will say one thing. I followed his advice and I am thankful. Luis has truly been strong,” Bárcenas said.
The former treasurer was referring to text messages he received from Rajoy in February 2012 after investigators discovered that Bárcenas had stashed millions of euros in Swiss bank accounts. In one of those messages, the prime minister told him: “Keep your composure because that is the last thing that you can lose.”
“The PP has no reason to fear me, but I have assumed my share of the responsibility, and now all of us have to assume accountability,” he said.
Bárcenas is facing a barrage of charges, including bribery, tax fraud, presenting false documents and swindling, in the massive Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case, which has ensnared dozens of former PP public figures. Prosecutors are asking for a 42-year prison term for Bárcenas.
The former treasurer is also under investigation for overseeing a slush fund and a parallel accounting system at the PP from 1990 to 2008, in which he recorded on ledgers all the cash contributions and donations made to the party by businessmen and other prominent citizens. Around €7.5 million may never have been reported to government regulators, investigators said.
The PP has denied any such parallel accounting, and some officials, such as secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal, suggest that Bárcenas may have created the slush fund on his own. But the former treasurer reiterated on Thursday night that it was “strictly true” that the separate accounting system existed.
Regarding his life behind bars over the past 19 months, Bárcenas said he had been “treated splendidly” by his fellow inmates. But he had nothing good to say about jail officials whom he accused of “persecution” and of treating him “differently” from other prisoners. A good example of this, he said, was the 10-hour delay he had to endure before they finally released him on Thursday.
His lawyer Javier Gómez de Liaño had passed receipts from nine family members who collected money to allow Bárcenas to pay his €200,000 bail to the High Court on Thursday morning. A €50,000 contribution was made by his sister-in-law from León.
After denying his petition for early bail on five occasions, High Court Judge Pablo Ruz decided to release Bárcenas after determining that the Gürtel case was near trial. On June 27, 2013, Ruz ordered Bárcenas held in preventive custody after considering him a flight risk and ruling that he was capable of tampering with evidence.
Under the conditions of his release, Bárcenas will have to appear in court three times a week and is prohibited from leaving the country. The judge has embargoed all his bank accounts and real estate assets.
Before speeding off in a Citroën C4 from Soto del Real outside Madrid, Bárcenas told reporters that he couldn’t wait to get home so he could give “a big hug” to his wife Rosalía Iglesias, who is also facing tax evasion and money-laundering charges along with her husband.