In new blow to Popular Party, current and former Madrid premiers named in graft probe

Main suspect in Púnica case, Francisco Granados, says Cristina Cifuentes and Esperanza Aguirre participated in unlawful campaign funding

Francisco Granados (R), arriving at the High Court.
Francisco Granados (R), arriving at the High Court.Álvaro García

A former senior official at the Madrid regional government has claimed that the current regional premier, Cristina Cifuentes, and a predecessor are both involved in a corruption case affecting the governing Popular Party (PP).

Francisco Granados, once the secretary general of the PP’s Madrid branch, said that both Cifuentes and Esperanza Aguirre – a veteran PP politician who headed the regional government from 2003 to 2012 – played a role in alleged illegal party funding by the Madrid PP.

I don’t care what this man says, he is a criminal

Madrid premier Cristina Cifuentes

The investigation into these parallel accounts is an offshoot of a larger nationwide corruption probe underway since October 2014 codenamed Púnica (see box). Granados and his business partner David Marjaliza, a constructor and childhood friend, are considered the masterminds behind a bid-rigging scheme that awarded at least €250 million in public contracts throughout Madrid, Valencia, Murcia and León.

At a hearing on Monday inside Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, Granados stated that the PP organized “a parallel support campaign” to help Aguirre win re-election in 2007 and 2011. These parallel activities were not bankrolled with official funds, he said. Investigators believe that the Madrid PP handled €5 million in hard-to-track funds during both campaigns.

This is the first time that Aguirre, who has since stepped back from the political frontlines, has seen her name dragged into any of the corruption scandals affecting her party. The other main case, known as Gürtel, is even bigger in scope but contains similar elements of bribery, rigged bids and illegal party funding.

Esperanza Aguirre (l) and Cristina Cifuentes in May 2015.
Esperanza Aguirre (l) and Cristina Cifuentes in May 2015.Alvaro García

Power structure

On Monday, Granados said that current Madrid premier Cristina Cifuentes was part of the “power structure” at the heart of the undercover campaigns, and that she had a “sentimental relationship” with her predecessor Ignacio González, who was at the top of this power pyramid. Soon after these statements were revealed, Cifuentes announced that she would take Granados to court for what she described as “a heap of falsehoods.”

“I don’t care what this man says, he is a criminal,” said Cifuentes, who was elected to head the regional government in June 2015. Before that, she was part of the regional executive from 2004 to 2008, and a deputy in the regional assembly until 2012.

Granados added that the opaque funds came mostly from phony advertising contracts for regional agencies such as the water company Canal de Isabel II, the Madrid Tourism Consortium and the computer and communications company ICM.

Origin of the Púnica case

The genesis of the Púnica case – the name is a reference to Granados, which means pomegranate trees in English, or Punica granatum in its Latin scientific name – is a tax investigation into Marjaliza and Granados' Swiss bank accounts, whose existence came to light in December 2013.

More than 90 people have so far been targeted by the Púnica investigation. Granados, who at various times in the past headed the justice, transportation and internal affairs departments at the Madrid regional government, is involved in seven of the 16 separate investigations that make up the case.

Granados was placed in pre-trial custody in October 2014 and released on bail in June of last year. In December he received a two-year prison sentence in the only Púnica-related trial to have taken place so far. Meanwhile his former associate Marjaliza has been cooperating with prosecutors as part of a plea bargain.

English version by Susana Urra.

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