CORRUPTION

Barcelona court rejects plea bargains in Unió graft case

Three defendants will have to serve jail time, say judges

The Barcelona regional High Court threw out a plea bargain agreement between three defendants in an illegal financing scheme in the Catalonia’s Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC) party that would have allowed them to avoid jail time.

Jail sentences should serve “to dissuade all citizens and politicians who might feel tempted” by corruption, the panel of judges wrote in their ruling.

The 14-year so called Pallerols inquiry involved the embezzlement of European Union (EU) funding that was destined to go to job training programs for the unemployed.

Andorran businessman Fidel Pallerols and former Unió party secretary Vicenç Gavaldà reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to the embezzlement charges in exchange for a seven-month jail term. Also entering a plea bargain agreement was the former director general of Catalonia’s labor department, Lluis Gavaldà, who accepted an 18-month jail sentence for diverting the EU funds to the Unió party.

Under Spanish law, defendants who are sentenced to less than two years can normally avoid actually going to jail if the court agrees to this option.

The businessman and former Unió party officials “orchestrated a scheme directed to fatten the war chest” of the Christian Democratic affiliate party that is now headed by Josep Antoni Duran.

The regional High Court has also held Unió civically responsible for profiting from the diversion of the EU money, which amount to 388,484 euros -- funds that will have to be returned.

Lawyers for the defendants had asked prosecutors for the suspended sentences in exchange for their guilty pleas, but the court said that the facts of the case are “undoubtedly serious.” In its ruling, the court also pointed out that it was “unacceptable that some people who dedicate themselves to public service incur in corrupt practices.”

The defendants have announced that they will appeal it.

Catalonia government spokesman Francesc Homs is expected to appear before the regional parliament to answer questions about the plea bargain agreements. The ruling Catalan nationalist CiU bloc, in which Unió is a partner, and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the CiU’s parliamentary partner, blocked a petition by opposition groups to keep justice commissioner Germà Gordó from appearing before lawmakers.

 

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