Luis Bárcenas, a former treasurer for Spain’s Popular Party (PP), on Monday offered damning information about the ruling conservatives at a court hearing that is part of a major kickbacks-for-contracts case known as Gürtel. Speaking at the 30th session of the trial at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s High Court, Bárcenas confirmed the existence of a parallel fund that he and his predecessor, Álvaro Lapuerta, were in charge of as party treasurers.
“It was unofficial accounting, it was off the books, and it was the PP’s, of course,” said Bárcenas, who is one of the key individuals in a sprawling corruption case involving six regional governments and nearly 200 official suspects.
“It follows from the fact that there were certain donations made, and Mr Lapuerta and myself would make a note of who was handing over those amounts,” said Bárcenas. “Those donations did not have a specific purpose […] They were not on the official records, that much is obvious, but there was an oversight of what came in and what went out.”
I’ve been buying art for myself, and because my wife likes it, since the 1980s
Over two-thirds of the alleged donations violated party financing legislation, either because they went over the legal limit or because they were made by individuals or businesses that were barred from being donors. But Bárcenas on Monday told prosecutor Concepción Sabadell that the donations were not meant to secure party favors.
“Every time a businessman made a donation, Mr Lapuerta, who is an absolutely honest person, would tell them that he accepted the donation but that it served no specific purpose. To them [the donors], it was a way to have a relationship with the party, it was innocuous.”
Bárcenas, who has already served 19 months in preventive detention, faces a prison term of 42 years and a fine of nearly €89 million for crimes ranging from money laundering to misappropriation of funds, tax fraud and document forgery. He was party manager from 1990 to 2008 and treasurer between 2008 and 2010.
The story of graft and patronage, which covers the years 1999 through 2005, has already cost dozens of PP elected officials their jobs at all levels of government. The investigation began in the summer of 2008 after a former PP councilor, José Luis Peñas, filed a complaint with the anti-corruption attorney.
Another defendant named Francisco Correa is considered the mastermind behind the web of corruption – the entire case is named after him, as his surname translates as “belt” in English and “gürtel” in German.
The former treasurer also denied allegations that Correa gave him money in exchange for securing favors for Gürtel companies seeking government contracts. “I never received anything from Mr Correa; not for myself and not for the PP,” said Bárcenas.
A private fortune
Besides being in charge of the PP’s parallel accounting system, Bárcenas also accumulated €48.2 million in Swiss bank accounts. Investigators believe the money came partly from kickbacks, and partly from “at least” €299,650 that he appropriated from the slush fund, according to prosecutors.
But he has always held that the money came from real estate transactions and the sale of artworks. On Monday, he reiterated this position.
“I’ve been buying art for myself and because my wife likes it since the 1980s, but my first attempt at making money with it dates back to December 2002,” he said in reply to questions from Sabadell.
Bárcenas said that Correa, who enjoyed his nickname of Don Vito, after the character in The Godfather, "let his relationships, his financial situation and the feeling that he was an important person go to his head; he felt that the party belonged to him."
“Did you keep part of the money [from the slush fund]?,” asked the prosecutor.
“No, nothing, absolutely nothing at all, it was impossible. It is false that I appropriated any amounts,” replied Bárcenas.
Bárcenas also named current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as the person who decided in 2003 that the PP would no longer hire Correa’s companies for organizing party events, as they had been doing for years. The decision was allegedly made after a party donor alerted Rajoy to the fact that Correa “was conducting illicit activities in municipalities in the Madrid region and that anyone who wanted to do business in those places had to go through him.”
English version by Susana Urra.