AUSBANC SCANDAL

Leader of Manos Limpias union wants to withdraw all court cases

Move would have direct effect on legal action against the Spanish king’s sister, Cristina

The head of Manos Limpias, Miguel Bernad, is taken away by police.
The head of Manos Limpias, Miguel Bernad, is taken away by police.Jaime Villanueva

The head of a far-right union who was arrested for extortion this month wants to drop all the lawsuits he has initiated in Spanish courts, according to close aides.

If Miguel Bernad goes ahead with his plans to terminate Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), a labor union that he used as the private prosecution in scores of court cases – including, most famously, the case against High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón for his investigation of Franco-era crimes – it could immediately end the current case against a Spanish royal.

Manos Limpias is the only accuser in the case against Cristina de Borbón, sister of King Felipe VI. The charges of tax fraud against her, which are part of the larger Noos case, could be dropped altogether if the accuser “dies” from a legal standpoint and its general assembly agrees not to pursue the case.

Just one accuser

Manos Limpias is the only accuser in the case against Cristina de Borbón, whom it charges with cooperating with her husband Iñaki Urdangarin’s shady business dealings. Specifically, Manos Limpias is seeking a prison term of eight years for the Spanish royal for alleged fraud in her 2007 and 2008 tax returns. Both the anti-corruption prosecutor in the case and the government’s defense have stated that they see no crime and refuse to press charges against her.

Bernad, 74, has expressed his desire to terminate the group he founded in 1995 to the friends who came to visit him at Navalcarnero penitentiary, where he was remanded in custody by High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz over his alleged involvement in an extortion scheme. He is believed to have asked Cristina de Borbón’s defense for €3 million in exchange for dropping the case against her. Her lawyer filed a complaint about the matter, triggering the investigation.

Bernard has been described by these sources as being “emotionally ravaged” by his present situation, and apparently wants to devote himself to his family, particularly to his mother, who is 104 years old.

Also detained as part of the same raid was Bernad’s personal friend Luis Pineda, chairman of Ausbanc, a consumer rights group that allegedly coerced banks and entrepreneurs into taking out expensive ads in its specialized publications in exchange for not publishing negative media coverage about them.

Manos Limpias has been a controversial group throughout its two-decade existence, and acted as the private prosecution in practically every corruption case to see the inside of a Spanish court, from Noos to Gürtel and Púnica (affecting the Popular Party), the ERE case in Andalusia (affecting the Socialist Party) and the Pujol family case in Catalonia.

English version by Susana Urra.

More information