Former top official from Valencia’s PP admits to illegal party financing

Ricardo Costa tells judge that ex-premier Francisco Camps was responsible for kickbacks scheme

Fernando J. Pérez
Ricardo Costa and his wife arriving in court.
Ricardo Costa and his wife arriving in court.VICTOR SAINZ (EL PAÍS)

The former secretary general for the conservative Popular Party (PP) in the Valencia region, Ricardo Costa, has admitted in front of a judge that his party was financed during election campaigns using undeclared donations from companies that were also Valencia government contractors.

He also directly blamed the former regional premier in Valencia, Francisco Camps, for hiring the services of businessman Francisco Correa’s event-organizing company, Orange Market. Correa is at the center of the far-reaching Gürtel corruption probe, which has been investigating kickbacks-for-contracts deals involving Correa’s business network and the PP for nearly 10 years.

Not only was I not in agreement, but also the national leadership [of the PP] was not in agreement Ricardo Costa

As many as 40 people have faced trial in recent years for their involvement in the Gürtel network, with the scandal tarnishing the image of the PP and becoming the biggest known case of party-related corruption in Spain’s democratic history. The sheer scope of the case forced investigating judges to break it down into sections.

In his statements, Costa, who is facing seven years and nine months in prison for electoral offenses and document fraud, protected the national branch of his party – which is currently in power in the central government in Madrid – from any suggestion of wrongdoing.

Testifying before a judge at Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, Costa stated that the former deputy premier of the Valencia region, Víctor Campos, “showed me some envelopes containing cash and said to me that the money came from business figures and that this was a job that had been given to him by the premier, Camps.”

Camps was one of the key figures when the Gürtel scandal originally broke, and stood accused of accepting bribes in the form of expensive suits from the network. He was found not guilty by a jury trial in 2012.

Bárcenas admitted to keeping the accounts, but claimed that the party had used illegal financing methods ever since it had been formed

The latest news from the Gürtel probe adds to the PP’s woes, after Correa – who has confessed to being the ringleader of the graft network, and has already spent several years behind bars – admitted last Tuesday that Orange Market, which organized events, took €3.4 million in undeclared cash from the Valencia branch of the PP for campaign rallies and other events in 2007 and 2008. From this amount, around €1.2 million was paid by at least nine business figures, for whom Orange Market created invoices for bogus projects.

Costa, who has expressed remorse for his involvement in the scheme and asked for “forgiveness” from “Valencian and Spanish society,” also detailed irregularities at events that featured current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during the regional and general election campaigns in 2008 in Valencia. “At those two bullrings [where the events took place], there were express requests from Camps to complement the event organized by [PP central headquarters in Madrid] Génova,” he stated. “Génova chose the site and chose the company, financing and setting up the design and the stage, while Camps requested extras such as fireworks, music bands, screens, the host… I understand that this money, around €30,000 in 2007 and a little more, was paid with undeclared funds supplied by businesspeople or via invoices to businesspeople.”

According to Costa, the order for companies to pay Orange Market for the PP’s campaign events came from the former deputy premier, Víctor Campos. Costa claims that when the request was conveyed to him, he refused to comply and traveled to the party’s national headquarters to meet with the treasurer at the time, Luis Bárcenas. There, he continued, “I conveyed the request from the Valencia regional PP, the request that was made to me by vice-premier Campos, which he told me had come from Camps. I conveyed it to Bárcenas, and he said to me word for word that this was a prohibited practice in the PP at the national level […] I returned from the national headquarters and I told Víctor Campos that not only was I not in agreement, but also the national leadership [of the PP] was not in agreement, and I called on him to convey this to Camps.”

This money, around €30,000, was paid with undeclared funds supplied by business people or via invoices to business people Ricardo Costa

Bárcenas himself has been mired in the Gürtel case, after admitting to running a slush fund for the national party, supplying ledgers allegedly showing cash payments over a number of years to high-profile members of the PP, including Prime Minister Rajoy himself. During one of his High Court appearances, Bárcenas admitted to keeping the accounts, but claimed that the party had used illegal financing methods ever since it had been formed. Appearing in court himself, Rajoy has denied any knowledge of such a fund.

Costa also told the judge about a meeting he held with Correa’s lieutenants after the regional election campaign in 2007. “[Pablo] Crespo and [Álvaro] Pérez gave me a gold Breitling watch, which I personally returned to Álvaro Pérez. They told me they were doing so because we didn’t ask for anything in return for giving them work.” Costa also spoke of alleged bribes for Francisco Camps. “Crespo suggested toward the end of 2008 or the start of 2009 that a company from the group could issue an invoice to the Valencia PP for €20,000 to pay the costs of Mr Camps for his suits. I told them no,” he stated.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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