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'I go to Switzerland because I love skiing'

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'I go to Switzerland because I love skiing'
Luis Bárcenas, the ex-treasurer of Spain's ruling Popular Party is currently in remand on corruption charges. Photo: Pierre-Phillipe Marcou/AFP
18:00 CEST+02:00
Mountaineer, father, weight loss king: there's a lot more to Luis Bárcenas, the scandal-hit ex-treasurer of Spain's ruling Popular Party, than meets the eye. Join The Local as we take a peek behind the curtains at the man they used to call Tarzan.

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.

Nickames

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. 

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.

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