CORRUPTION IN SPAIN

New legal setback for ruling PP in ‘Bárcenas’ secret slush fund case

Judge adds accounting and electoral crimes to list of wrongdoing that will soon go to trial

Former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas is in the eye of the storm over allegations of illegal party financing.
Former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas is in the eye of the storm over allegations of illegal party financing.Jaime Villanueva

The Popular Party (PP) has been dealt a new blow in the “Bárcenas case,” a criminal inquiry into secret party ledgers allegedly reflecting illegal donations, under-the-table payments and a long-running slush fund.

High Court examining judge José de la Mata on Thursday added accounting and electoral crimes to the list of unlawful activities presumably engaged in by the ruling conservatives “between 1990 and at least 2008.”

De la Mata, successor to previous examining magistrate Pablo Ruz, officially ended the investigation and has decided to try former PP treasurers Luis Bárcenas and Álvaro Lapuerta, who allegedly ran the parallel accounts.

Investigators have been unable to uncover hard evidence of regular under-the-table payments to top PP officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

A former party manager, Cristóbal Páez, and the architect who refurbished PP headquarters in Madrid and was paid in undeclared cash, will also stand trial.

In a pre-trial report filed in late April, anti-corruption prosecutors asked for a five-year prison term for Bárcenas and for his predecessor, Álvaro Lapuerta, who are both accused of misappropriating funds, forging documents and incurring in tax crimes.

The investigation began in February 2013 after EL PAÍS published 14 handwritten pages allegedly penned by Bárcenas and reflecting a parallel accounting system. In the final 102-page report, Judge De la Mata finds that the PP made use of “several sources of financing outside the legal economic circuit” for over a decade.

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These sources include €7.5 million donated by businesspeople, most of them from the construction sector. Very often, these same donors were recipients of government contracts, in clear violation of party financing laws.

Part of that money was used to pay cash bonuses to high-ranking PP members. In one case, Senate speaker Pío García Escudero received a €24,000 loan to repair his home following an attack.

Yet investigators have been unable to uncover hard evidence of regular under-the-table payments to top PP officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, despite the fact that the ledgers suggest they existed.

In 2003, 2004 and 2008, the party used €1.18 million of this opaque money to fund campaign runs at the regional, national and European level.

A date for the hearing has not been set yet.

The Bárcenas case is an offshoot of the larger Gürtel bribes-for-contracts scandal, also affecting the ruling conservatives.