Top Catalan clan faces dirty dealing charges

Long seen as the foremost champion of Catalan nationalism and a symbol of opposition to the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Jordi Pujol now finds the image of his family tarnished in Spain by financial scandals involving two of his sons.

Top Catalan clan faces dirty dealing charges
Oriol Pujol (centre), seen as a possible successor of Catalonia's President Artur Mas, is charged with influence peddling. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Pujol pushed for — and won — greater powers for Catalonia when he served as president of the government of the wealthy northeastern region of Spain between 1981 and 2003, winning him the nickname of "Spain's viceroy".

He spent two years in jail for having helped to organize the singing of a banned Catalan anthem at Barcelona's Palau de la Musica concert hall in front of Franco, cementing his image as one of the leading opponents to the dictatorship which suppressed Catalan autonomy, culture and language.

But 10 years after he left office, his image as the patriarch of Catalan identity is overshadowed by allegations of wrongdoing involving his sons at a time when Catalonia is experiencing a resurgence in its independence movement.

Oriol Pujol, the fifth of his seven sons, appeared before a judge in Barcelona on Tuesday after he was charged last month with influence peddling.

Spanish authorities suspect the 46-year-old of using political prominence over the assignment of vehicle inspection centre contracts for personal gain.

Oriol, the only one of Jordi's sons to enter politics, says the charges are politically motivated to discredit the independence movement.

"I have always acted strictly within the law. I have never cooperated with any corruption network," he said when he was charged.

Oriol is seen as a likely successor to Catalan President Artur Mas, who has broken with his ruling Convergence and Union (CiU) party's long tradition of moderation and is now pushing for a referendum on independence from Spain.

He has a seat in the Catalan regional parliament in representation of the party, which his father helped to found in 1974, a year before Franco's death paved the way for the restoration of democracy in Spain.

Oriol's older brother Jordi, a 54-year-old fan of luxury cars, is under investigation after it was revealed that he moved €32.4 million to bank accounts in 13 nations, including tax havens such as Andorra, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. He has not been charged with any crime.

In January his former girlfriend Victoria Alvarez told an investigating judge that she transported €400,000 in €200 and €500 notes in a bag from Andorra, according to Spanish media reports.

"He usually carries a lot of cash. He normally has between €6,000 and 10,000 in his pockets," she said during questioning by the judge, according to daily newspaper El País.

The affair came to light after a detective agency used an electronic device hidden inside a bouquet of flowers to record a conversation between Alvarez and Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, the head of the Catalan branch of the conservative Popular Party, at a Barcelona restaurant.

During their conversation, Alvarez discussed the details of her former boyfriend's bank accounts outside of Spain and their conversation was leaked to the press.

Jordi Pujol said Friday he was "worried" because of the scandal affecting his sons.

"But I am confident in the outcome," the 82-year-old added.

Before the last regional elections held in Catalonia in November 2012, an alleged police report whose origins were unknown was published in daily newspaper El Mundo which claimed that Mas and Pujol had bank accounts in Switzerland. The banks cited by the newspaper denied the report.

Suspicions of corruption affecting the Pujol clan are not new.

"About one-fifth of the 58 members of Pujol's governments during the 23 years in which he was president were investigated for corruption. Its shocking," said University of Carcelona political scientist Jordi Matas.

"If the region wants to advance on its path to self-determination, these types of practices, if they exist, must be eliminated," he added.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain