• Spain's news in English

'I go to Switzerland because I love skiing'

The Local · 23 Jul 2013, 18:00

Published: 23 Jul 2013 18:00 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Luis Bárcenas is the closest thing Spain has to a public enemy number one, and there is some pretty stiff competition out there.

This 55-year-old ex-treasurer of the Popular Party (PP) was recently remanded in custody without bail in a long-running corruption case centred around a kickbacks scheme — a decision he will appeal on Thursday.

As if that wasn't enough, he is also accused of running a secret slush fund for the governing PP.

The former official recently claimed to have made under-the-table cash payments to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy when Rajoy was a minister in the 1990s and 2000s.

But there is more to the grey-haired Bárcenas than meets the eye.

In this week's Spanish Face of the Week we give you the lowdown on some of the odder facts about the man everybody loves to hate.

Mountain air

Bárcenas's two biggest passions are mountaineering and heli-skiing, which involves being dropped out of a helicopter onto a mountain to be able to ski down it.

The former ex-treasurer has scaled a number of major peaks including the towering Caucasian peak of Mount Elbrus (5642m).

He also took part in a 1987 Spanish expedition which — armed with a wad of cash and a flag signed by the country's King Juan Carlos — allegedly opened up a new route up Everest.

Even in his role as a mountaineer, however, Bárcenas couldn't escape controversy.

The expedition members were taken to task by Spain's mountaineering federation which said "the memory of the expedition didn't line up with the reality of what had occurred". 

The federation said the group had not found a new route at all, and that the group had not reached the summit.

What is not in doubt, according to Spanish sports newspaper, Marca, is that Bárcenas reached the very respectable altitude of 8,200 metres.

When being questioned in court about millions of euros he once had stashed away in Swiss accounts, he told the judge he often to Switzerland because he loved going skiing and mountaineering.


The former PP treasurer has had several nicknames during his career.

Initially, his colleagues within the party called him Mr. No for his tight rein on party funds.

Later, he earned the nickname Tarzan because of the rags-to-riches nature of his story. He began his career with nothing — or in a loincloth — and ended up in fur coats.

In pieces of evidence relating to the long-running corruption scandal known as Caso Guertel, Bárcenas was also referred to as Luis el Cabrón, or ‘Luis the Bastard’.

Mobile apps

Earlier in 2013, a Spanish gaming company developed a mobile app that stars a Bárcenas-like character.

The objective of the game known as Dársenas: The Corrupt Treasurer is to make secret payments from anonymous donors to party members without being caught.

Starting in 1996 when your party wins the elections, you must give handouts to politicians and divert funds to private accounts in Switzerland before the taxman nabs you. 
The deal has to happen under the table without you being caught.
If you don't hand out the money evenly, an unhappy party member will leak your ledgers to the press and it'll be game over.
A YouTube screen grab of the mobile app Dársenas: The Corrupt Treasurer. 
Shoe boxes

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper claimed shoe boxes were the preferred hiding place for the huge wads of cash handed over to Luis Bárcenas at the beginning of his career with the PP, then known as the Alianza Popular.

It is believed businessman Francisco Correa handed young Luis €6 million in cash for storage in the former footwear containers.

Son of Bárcenas

Guillermo Bárcenas goes by various names, including Willy McKornix and Willy McPolvings.

This is perhaps not surprising given the media attention given to his father.

Bárcenas junior also has an unlikely hobby.

He has a YouTube channel which features numerous videos of him playing guitar and singing about football.

Son of Bárcenas: Willy Bárcenas sings on Spanish football show Punto Pelota

The Gao Ping connection

It’s a small world when it comes to Spanish corruption.

Luis Bárcenas shares a business adviser or ‘gestor’ with none other than Madrid-based Chinese ‘entrepreneur’ Gao Ping. 

Story continues below…

Gao Ping found himself in hot water late in 2012 when police positioned him at the centre of a massive money laundering ring.

Cops seized €10 million in cash and two hundred cars in a raid on the art dealer and his associates.

Slimming down

Once a regular visitor to an exclusive gym in Madrid’s Salamanca neighbourhood, Bárcenas is suffering from a lack of exercise these days.

He has gone from his former athletic self to a shadow of the treasurer he once was.

He has lost 17kg since going on trial for corruption, according to Spain's El Mundo daily.

Midas touch?

Luis Bárcenas snapped up 28 ingots of gold for €885,000 back in 2010. He then flogged them off again in less than two months.

But the deal wasn't as dazzling as you might think. The ex-treasurer lost €60,000 in the transaction.

In fact, financial experts have pointed out that the PP’s former money man may not have been quite as savvy with investments as would be expected.

One anonymous broker told Spain’s El Diario newspaper that Bárcenas invested 90 percent of his money in the stock market in high risk ventures.

The Local (news@thelocal.es)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain's Podemos sees golden opportunity in Socialist woes
Pablo Iglesias is ready to step up in opposition. Photo: AFP

As Spain's conservatives prepare to re-take power after 10 months of political limbo, anti-austerity party Podemos has set its sights on replacing the divided Socialists as the main opposition force.

Wildlife ranger accused over decapitated bison in Valencia
The headless corpse of Sauro was found last month. Photo: Carlos Alamo / Reserva de Valdeserrillas

The case of the beheaded bison at a wildlife reserve in Valencia just got a whole lot weirder.

Spain jobless drops below 20% for first time in six years
The unemployed queuing up outside a Madrid job centre. Photo: AFP

Spain's unemployment fell below 20 percent for the first time in six years, official figures showed on Thursday.

'Saints not ghouls' insists Spanish church for Halloween
Suggested outfits from the Bishopric of Cadiz and Ceuta. Photo: Shower of Roses

Spanish bishops are urging good Christian children to forgo zombie, ghost and devil outfits and instead dress up as "saints, virgins and apostles".

Tough road ahead, Spain PM warns before return to power
Rajoy will try and form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned on Wednesday of a tough road ahead as he prepares to take power again at the head of a minority government with little support.

Russia withdraws request to refuel warships in Ceuta
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was due to dock in Ceuta

Russia has withdrawn a request for its aircraft carrier group to be refuelled at the Spanish port of Ceuta, authorities confirmed.

Bulls replace guard dogs at scrap yard in Valencia
Two bulls will be patrolling the scrap yard in eastern Spain. Archive photo: AFP

Guard dogs were not proving enough of a deterrent to thieves at a car breakers yard in eastern Spain so the owner has brought in a pair of fighting bulls.

Two-headed shark born in Spanish laboratory
Scientists are studying the rare find. Photo: IBIMA / University of Malaga

Scientists at the University of Malaga found the embryo of a shark with two heads and just one body.

Spain under pressure to stop refuel of Russian warships
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is due to arrive in Ceuta. Photo: Mil Ru / Wikimedia

Spain is facing international pressure to refuse permission for a Russian warship flotilla to refuel in Ceuta en route to continuing airstrikes against the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Most wanted: Fugitive rapist arrested in Tenerife
Mohammed Jahangir Alam was arrested n Tenerife. Photo: Crimestoppers.

Mohammed Jahangir Alam, one of Britain's most wanted fugitives, who fled the country in 2008 after allegedly raping a woman, was found working in Tenerife.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available