Andorra bank accuses Spain of blackmail to harm Mas and Junqueras

Andorra bank BPA admits that it was pressured into leaking details about the Pujol family

3 min
Higini Cierco surt de la sala després de declarar davant la Batlle / B.N.

Andorra / BarcelonaHigini Cierco, the majority shareholder of Andorra Private Bank (BPA), testified yesterday as an indicted party in a case related to alleged money laundering involving various executives of the Andorran bank. In addition to defending the legality of his actions as chief executive of the bank, Cierco used his statement before Judge Canòlich Mingorance to denounce pressure and blackmail from Spanish political leaders to leak information regarding former presidents Jordi Pujol and Artur Mas, current vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and their respective families. The pressure came, according to Cierco, a few months before the Andorran government took action against bank after receiving a report from the United States indicating alleged connections with organized crime.

As a matter of fact, Cierco suggested that there is a connection between the report issued by the department of Financial Crimes of the US Treasury (FinCEN) and the pressure from the Spanish authorities. After the accusation from the United States, the Andorran banking authority acted and sold the bank's non-toxic assets to U.S. fund J.C. Flowers. According to Cierco, the Spanish police warned him that if he did not collaborate with them and provide information, "they would act against BPA", and using the "American administration” as a proxy, if necessary. In a statement issued after the testimony, the Cierco business group said that the facts they reported must be understood in the context of the Spanish authorities’ intent to make the former presidents' assets public.

An invasion of privacy felony?

Cierco's explanations were not welcomed by Manuel Pujades, the Andorran government’ counsel, who is a plaintiff in the court case concerning BPA's alleged money laundering. In a statement to ARA yesterday, Pujades pointed out --without wanting to discuss the accuracy of Cierco's version-- that the revelations are an attempt to create a "smokescreen" and "to muddy" the true thrust of the case. He noted that the assets of the Pujol family have nothing to do with the case being investigated by Judge Mingorance, related with the alleged link between the Andorran bank and organized crime. "It's pretentious to think that Spanish police could influence the American authorities", said Pujades.

Cierco reported that he had received a call in the spring of 2014 from Celestino Barroso, Interior attache at the Spanish Embassy in Andorra, who explained to him that he had to talk with a number of people in Madrid and that, if he refused, his bank "would die". Barroso told him that a person identified by the nickname Fèlix, who —according to him— was Marcelino Martín Blas, the former chief of the Internal Affairs division in the Spanish police force, would give him new instructions. Blas was a senior official implicated in Operation Catalonia, as revealed in court a few months ago by Superintendent José Manuel Villarejo. The leaked conversations between Jorge Fernández Díaz, Interior Minister, and former head of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Office Daniel de Alfonso, made clear their intention to seek out information that could harm Mas and Junqueras and put a stop to Catalonia’s pro-independence process.

With Cierco’s agreement, then-Superintendent Blas met with Joan Pau Miquel, CEO of BPA, and asked him for the bank’s information on Mas, Junqueras, and Pujol. The bank’s executive, "aware of the danger inherent in the warning", decided to provide information on Pujol (Mas and Junqueras did not have accounts with BPA) to the Spanish police, an act that could constitute a crime of breach of professional secrets in the banking industry. Why didn't those responsible at BPA report the incident? Cierco explained that the Spanish police had threatened to shut down the bank in 15 days.