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CORRUPTION

Gürtel: Spain’s ruling party sentenced in major corruption trial

A Spanish court said Thursday it had found Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) guilty of benefiting from a vast kickbacks scheme that saw PP politicians take bribes in exchange for contracts.

Gürtel: Spain's ruling party sentenced in major corruption trial
Image grab from the court house press room TV transmitting images of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declaring as a witness in the Gürtel trial. Photo: AFP

The Madrid-based National Court, which deals with major criminal cases, also sentenced businessman Francisco Correa, the brains of the graft network, to 51 years in prison and several former PP members to up to 38 years.   


Spanish businessman Alvaro Perez Alonso 'El Bigotes', former secretary of the Partido Popular (PP) of Galicia Pablo Crespo and Spanish businessman Francisco Correa look on during the Gürtel affair trial in January. Archive photo: AFP

The so-called “Gürtel” affair has for years been a thorn in the side of the conservative PP, which lost its absolute majority in parliament in 2015 partly because of corruption scandals.

The PP itself was not on trial for direct involvement in the scheme but was sentenced instead for having benefited from funds obtained illegally, which implies it may not have known where the money came from.

It has been ordered to pay back €245,000 ($290,000).   

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The sentence also confirms the existence of a “slush fund” within the PP, “a financial and accounting structure parallel to the official one that existed at least since 1989,” according to the 1,687-page sentence.

A separate trial is pending over the slush fund.   

The man allegedly in charge of this slush fund was Luis Barcenas, the PP's treasurer between 2008 and 2009.   

He was sentenced to 33 years and four months in prison and to a 44-million-euro fine for money laundering, tax fraud and other offences.   

Barcenas, suspected of having hidden money in Switzerland, was the pillar of the corruption scheme along with Correa.   


Former-treasurer of Spain's ruling party Luis Barcenas leaves Madrid's High Court on January 2015. Photo: AFP

During the trial, where 37 people were in the dock from October 2016 to November 2017, Rajoy was even forced to appear as a witness, the first acting prime minister to do so.

He told the court he had “never dealt with party financial matters.” 

In all, 29 of the 37 people on trial were sentenced to a total of 351 years in jail.

Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos which has supported the PP in parliament  and helped pass the 2018 budget said the Gürtel judgement further “complicated” Spanish politics which is already challenged by the crisis in Catalonia.  .

“This throws all of the plans for this parliament into doubt”, Rivera said. “We had seen politicians accused before, but never before had a governing party been found guilty of corruption; this marks a turning point.”

“The government of Spain has been found guilty of corruption. This weakens us at a delicate moment because of the separatist challenge”.

Meanwhile, Pablo Iglesias who is fighting for survival as leader of Podemos after being embroiled in his own scandal following the purchase of a €600,000 house, has called for a motion of no confidence in Rajoy.

The Podemos leader said the situation was “very serious” and that his party was “ready to support [Socialist Party leader] Pedro Sánchez if he tables one.”

“No advanced democracy can put up with a party of criminals in government,” Iglesias said.

The Popular Party immediately said it would appeal the ruling and that “profit-seeking participant” was a civil liability matter, not a criminal one.

The PP “does not share” the conclusions the 1,687-page judgement reaches, said a statement released by the party after the judgement..

“At no time has the Popular Party been accused [of a crime] or tried for one”, it continued: “we are talking about a civil liability”.

CORRUPTION

Barçagate: Police raid FC Barcelona offices and arrest former president

Police raided the offices of FC Barcelona on Monday, carrying out several arrests just six days ahead of the club's presidential elections, a Catalan regional police spokesman told AFP.

Barçagate: Police raid FC Barcelona offices and arrest former president
Barcelona's former president Josep Maria Bartomeu is among the arrested. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Spain's Cadena Ser radio said one of those arrested was former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October, along with CEO Oscar Grau and the club's head of legal services.

But the police refused to confirm names, saying only “arrests are taking place” and adding that the operation was being run by officers from the financial crimes unit.

“We are in the process of carrying out an operation right now with agents of the financial crimes unit,” the police spokesman told AFP.

According to reports in the Spanish media, the operation is linked to last year's investigation into the 'BarçaGate' scandal, which saw the club deny hiring a company to criticise current and former players on social media to improve the image of the then-president Bartomeu.

Cadena Ser said Barca paid €1 million in six separate invoices to the company I3 Ventures, with whom the club have since cut ties.

Bartomeu resigned in October, after mounting pressure following months of controversy and a dramatic decline in performances on the pitch.

His successor is due to be elected on Sunday, when club members will choose between the final three candidates, Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.

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