PP, Ana Mato found guilty in Gürtel trial, Bárcenas slush fund proven
The ruling party's former treasurer faces 33 years in prison and fines in excess of €44 million
Sentencing during the first stage of the Gürtel trial (1999-2005) has dealt a heavy blow to corruption in Spain’s Partido Popular. Spain's National Court has found the party led by Mariano Rajoy guilty of actively benefiting from a conspiracy involving bribes and illegally awarding contracts, part of which was destined for the party’s finances by means of a slush fund. The Partido Popular used the money to finance its election campaigns in several towns in the Madrid area, such as Majadahonda and Pozuelo de Alarcón.
One of the stiffest sentences was handed down to the party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, the poster boy of corruption within the PP, who has other charges pending, such as the 'Box B' case. Bárcenas was sentenced to 33 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of €44 million. His wife has also been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Bárcenas tried to excuse his wife from criminal responsibility for having concealed millions of euros in foreign bank accounts, in exchange for him accepting a stiffer sentence. However, the court refused to consider his request.
This is the first verdict in which the courts have confirmed the existence of illegal accounting by the PP, describing it as: "A financial and accounting structure which existed in parallel to the official one since at least 1989, in which entries were made informally, sometimes in the form of handwritten notes such as those belonging to Bárcenas, specifying the party’s income and expenses or, in other instances, amounts paid to specific members of the party".
The former Minister of Health, Ana Mato, has also been found guilty of having received illegal payments and will have to pay €28,467. Mato took numerous holidays and held parties, paid for with money from Francisco Correa’s business network. Correa, seen as the mastermind behind the graft network, has been sentenced to almost 52 years in prison. However, Correa and one of his two business partners, Pablo Crespo, sentenced to 37 years in prison, were both acquitted of the crime of illicit association. Meanwhile, Álvaro Pérez, known as 'The Moustache', who was only charged with bribery and tax evasion, has been acquitted and will not face jail. Pérez is involved in the Valencian element of the Gürtel case, however. Correa’s ex-wife, Carmen Rodríguez, a former Majadahonda City Council’s chief of staff, has been sentenced to almost 15 years in prison.
The other defendants who have been found guilty include the former mayor of Majadahonda, Guillermo Ortega, with 38 years; the former Madrid councillor Alberto López Viejo, with 31 years, and the former mayor of Pozuelo, Jesús Sepúlveda, with 14 years. The penalties include 28 convictions for perverting the course of justice that entail being barred from holding public office for a total of 194 years. In total, of the 37 defendants, 29 were convicted, receiving more than 351 years in prison for crimes of unlawful association, defrauding a public administration, bribery, falsification of documents, embezzlement of public funds, perverting the course of justice, money laundering, tax evasion, influence peddling and unlawful appropriation. The illegal activities, for which Correa was paid €8.4 million, have been given a verdict seven and a half years after Judge Baltasar Garzón ordered the first arrests in 2009.
Dissenting vote by the president
The sentence records a dissenting vote by the President of the Court, Ángel Hurtado, who believes that the PP has not liability in this case. He considers that "it is necessary to assume the PP’s total lack of participation in and ignorance of the criminal acts" and feels that it has not been proved that the party was aware of the activities of its members in Majadahonda and Pozuelo de Alarcón. According to the judge, "Ortega and Sepúlveda kept their activities secret from the party, and it is even harder to see how the PP benefited from them", going on to say he believes the "real beneficiaries" are the two former mayors, who stood in the 2003 municipal elections.
The leaders of the PP make the same argument, when speaking on this issue, having always maintained that the PP knew nothing at the national level, including Mariano Rajoy, when he gave evidence before the National Court in San Fernando de Henares. The two judges whose views are in the majority question the "credibility" of the witnesses, including PM Rajoy’s, who denied all knowledge of the parallel bookkeeping. The PP has already released a statement announcing that it will appeal the sentence.
Bárcenas, a key figure
The judges described Correa's network as an "effective system of institutional corruption employing mechanisms for the manipulation of central, regional and local public procurement thanks to a close relationship with influential members of the PP who had the potential to influence the decision-making processes with regard to the awarding of contracts by certain public bodies". The sentencing statement goes on to say that certain companies enjoyed favourable treatment from the public administration in order to unlawfully obtain significant financial gain. A further illegal practice was the charging of commissions when another company placed a successful bid, with the resulting sums either disbursed by Correa himself or the public officials who participated in the procedure.
In passing sentence, the judges consider that Bárcenas was a key figure, "a veritable master of defrauding the Treasury". They conclude that the PP's former treasurer took the necessary steps to ensure that the contracts "would be won by the firm which he wished to favour". However, a significant part of Bárcenas’ sentence is due to having transferred his illegal earnings to Swiss bank accounts and for having siphoned off funds belonging to the PP, sums which the party refuses to lay claim to.
Sentence review hearing
The Prosecutor's Office of the National Court has already requested that a sentence review hearing be held according to Article 505 of the Criminal Code for sixteen of the individiuals who were sentenced. These include, Bárcenas and his wife, López Viejo, Sepúlveda and Ortega. The Public Prosecutor's Office is likely to ask for them to be held on remand until the sentences become final, since the defence may still appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court. Bárcenas is still embroiled in the Box B case, meaning the Prosecutor's Office is more likely to ask for him to be held on remand.