Following a trial lasting a year, the Gürtel case, the first part of one of the largest cases of corruption in Spain, is nearing its end. Yesterday, the anti-fraud prosecutor presented the final version of its findings regarding the first phase (1999-2005), with several changes: a 125-year prison sentence for its alleged ringleader, the businessman Francisco Correa; 85 for his alleged second-in-command, the former secretary of the Galician Partido Popular, Pablo Crespo, and a significant number of the PP’s leaders shown to have been involved. The public prosecutor also concluded that the PP financially benefited from the group’s activities, for which it is asking for a fine in excess of €245,000. In total, 37 individuals stood trial for having participated in an alleged criminal network of bribes and illegal contracts with links to Madrid and Valencia that is thought to have lined the PP’s pockets in various Spanish regions.
The defendants and hundreds of witnesses appeared before the National Court in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid). According to prosecutors Concepción Sabadell and Concepción Nicolás, it has been proven that the Partido Popular was the recipient of illegal funding. The scheme involved kick-backs in exchange for winning government contracts, with the money ending up in the party’s slush fund. It is suspected that the money was used to finance the election campaigns of the PP’s candidates in Majadahonda and Pozuelo de Alarcón, in the Madrid area. One of the key figures in the case is its alleged mastermind, who was responsible for the PP’s parallel bookkeeping system, the party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, against whom the prosecutor's office has dropped one of the eight charges filed against him. The final draft of the prosecutor’s document omits counts relating to income tax fraud in 2009, thus reducing Barcenas’ sentence from 42 to 39 years. As for his wife, the public prosecutor considers her to be an accessory to her husband’s crimes, while making him bear the brunt of responsibility. If the court agrees to this change, Bárcenas’ sentence could well increase.
Another of the changes announced yesterday affects the former minister of the PP in Madrid, Alberto López Viejo, who saw his prison sentence reduced from 46 to 40 years by the prosecutor's office, after also dropping his crimes for tax evasion. In its final ruling the public prosecutor has maintained its recommendation that the PP’s former Health Minister, Ana Mato be fined €28,467, for having paid for trips and parties using money from Correa’s illegal network. Tomorrow will see the defence’s turn to give its closing statements, in which it is expected to call for the acquittal of the majority of the defendants. According to the timetable, the accused are due to appear in court for a hearing at the end of the month.
"The PP has nothing to hide"
Mariano Rajoy gave evidence as a witness on 26 July, when the main focus was whether the party’s national leadership knew that fraud was taking place in certain councils headed by the party’s mayors. Rajoy, who was president of the PP at the time, categorically denied any knowledge of how election campaigns were funded, excusing himself of all responsibility. When the PP’s Deputy Secretary of Communications, Pablo Casado was asked yesterday to comment on the public prosecutor's statements, he stuck to Rajoy’s version of events, stressing that the party leadership was unaware of the activities of the two alleged "swindlers", in reference to the former mayors of Pozuelo and Majadahonda, for whom the prosecutors are calling for prison terms. "We have nothing to hide; the party leadership does not manage, direct, finance or have knowledge of the councils’ campaigns", Casado declared at a press conference at the PP’s head office.
Awaiting the outcome of the trial, the public prosecutor’s closing statements prompted Podemos to reiterate the need to force Rajoy out of office. Noelia Vera, Podemos’ joint-spokesperson declared that Rajoy should go "Not only for his management of the Catalan conflict, but for leading the most corrupt political party in Europe".
The key defendants of the first phase of the Gürtel conspiracy
Considered the leader of the network, the businessman Francisco Correa faces a 125-year prison sentence. According to the public prosecutor, Correa played a key role in the illegal financing of the PP, using his influence to recruit suitable companies.
The PP’s former Health Minister, Ana Mato, stands accused of having financially benefitted from the conspiracy. The prosecutor's office recommends a fine of €28,467 for having paid for trips and parties with money from Francisco Correa’s network.
Correa confessed to having made payments to Luis Bárcenas, the PP’s former treasurer, who in turn admitted the existence of an illegal slush fund. The treasury reduced its recommendation that he be sent to prison, from 42 years to 39 years, after dropping charges relating to tax evasion.
The Partido Popular itself is accused of having profited from the alleged corruption. According to the public prosecutor, the party benefited from kickbacks from companies in exchange for winning government contracts, with the proceeds ending up in Bárcenas’ slush fund. The prosecution is calling for it to receive a €245,492 fine.