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SWITZERLAND

Top official sent to prison in corruption case

The ex-treasurer of Spain's ruling Popular Party (PP), Luis Bárcenas was remanded in custody without bail on Thursday in the latest development in one of two ongoing corruption cases against the official.

Top official sent to prison in corruption case
Luis Bárcenas had failed to adequately explain the money held by him in Swiss accounts said a Spanish High Court judge on Thursday. Photo: Pierre-Philippe Marcou

Bárcenas, the treasurer of the PP from 1990 to 2009, had failed to adequately explain the around €47 million ($61.5 million) that he held in Swiss bank accounts, said presiding High Court judge Pablo Ruz in his ruling.

In a 24-page court order, the judge remanded the former top official in custody because he presented an increased flight risk and that he might destroy evidence.

The decision to send the Bárcenas to prison is the latest development in the long-running corruption case known as 'Caso Gürtel.

In that case, the ex-treasurer is charged with money laundering and tax fraud among other crimes as part of an investigation into a group of Spanish businessmen who organized PP events in exchange for kickbacks. 

The move to remain the ex-treasurer in custody comes in the wake of recent revelations that Bárcenas held more money in Swiss accounts than was originally suspected.

Links to accounts in the United States and Uruguay are also being investigated.

Judge Ruz also said in his court order that Bárcenas had forged documentation and "simulated" deals involving works of art to hide the money trail.

The PP issued a statement a 17-word statement on Thursday saying it respected the court's decision "as always", Spanish national daily El País reported.

The ex-treasurer's lawyer, Alfonso Trallero, meanwhile, said in Spain's High Court "You can't say that having €25, €30 or €40 million in Switzerland is a crime."

The lawyer also dismissed the idea that his client was a flight risk.

"It's impossible that Mr Bárcenas could flee and destroy evidence," Trallero was quoted as saying in ABC newspaper.

"He is one of the best known people (around) and has an appearance that would make him recognizable wherever he goes in the world." 

In a second case against Bárcenas, the official is also accused of managing an illegal slush for the PP.

El País in January published account ledgers purportedly showing that Mariano Rajoy, now prime minister, and other party leaders received tens of thousands of euros in undeclared payments channelled from donors.

The affair rattled the party and fuelled public outrage as Rajoy pushes through economic reforms to stabilize Spain's crisis-hit public finances.

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SWITZERLAND

A new life in Switzerland for Catalan separatist Marta Rovira

Catalan separatist Marta Rovira, who fled Spain last month to escape charges over the region's breakaway bid, said in an interview published Thursday she planned to settle in Switzerland for good.

A new life in Switzerland for Catalan separatist Marta Rovira
Marta Rovira sits next to yellow ribbons placed on empty seats reserved for the jailed Catalan separatist leaders during a parliamentary session last month, Photo: AFP

“This is a long-term decision,” Rovira told Swiss daily Le Temps in an interview published on its website.

“I want to rebuild my life here with my family, and to place myself under the protection of Switzerland,” she said, adding though that, at this stage, she did not see the need to seek asylum.

The interview, conducted in the Geneva offices of Rovira's lawyer, confirmed reports that she had made her way to Switzerland after announcing in March she was taking “the road to exile”.

Rovira, who is the deputy leader of the leftwing separatist ERC party, is one of seven pro-independence leaders who have fled abroad to avoid facing serious charges over their role in Catalonia's independence push in October 2017.

Nine others, including ERC president Oriol Junqueras, are in prison.   

Catalonia's pro-independence presidential candidate Jordi Sanchez also remains in jail, after Spain's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request for him to be released and sworn in as regional head.

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Poster calling for release of Catalan politicians currently in Spanish jail. Photo: AFP

Rovira herself was placed under judicial control in February, but the judge stopped short of putting her behind bars for the duration of an ongoing probe into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

“I came to Switzerland to protect myself against political persecution… If I were still in Spain, I would be behind bars right now,” she said.    

She pointed out that all of the pro-independence leaders who, like her, were summoned by the Supreme Court in Madrid on March 23rd, were now in jail.    

Asked about criticism that her departure had weakened the independence movement, Rovira insisted that she had had no choice.    

“I could not risk spending 20 to 30 years in prison for offences I have not committed, when my daughter is barely seven years old,” she said.    

“When I was in Barcelona, I was living in an internal prison. I was constantly being followed by police in the street… I could no longer express my political views openly for fear of facing unfounded criminal charges.”

“My daughter also suffered… She worried about me,” she said, insisting that “today, I am much more useful since I am free.”   

Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spain's conservative central government imposed direct rule on the region after it unilaterally declared independence in October.

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22nd.

Asked what the separatists' main goal was, Rovira told Le Temps they wanted to “reestablish the foundations for the rule of law, freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate…, to reestablish the foundations for democracy.”   

“We are being attacked on all sides, but we are resisting. I think the future will show we were in the right.”