CORRUPTION

Fifteen years in the courts, but embezzling ex-Barça chief will walk free

Top court upholds convictions of Núñez and tax inspectors but reduces prison sentences

The businessman and former president of FC Barcelona,José Luis Núñez Clemente (l), accompanied by his son, Jose Lluis Núñez Navarro, also convicted in the case. / Tejederas (EL PAÍS)

After 15 years of investigations and court battles, a high-profile defendant in one of the major corruption scandals to have broken in Catalonia was given a reduced prison term on Wednesday after Spain’s Supreme Court finally ratified his convictions. The former president of FC Barcelona soccer club, Josep Lluís Núñez, was sentenced to a two-year-and-two-month jail term for his convictions related to the embezzlement of some 13 million euros in public funds.

The 82-year-old will no doubt avoid serving any time in prison because of his age. He had originally been sentenced in July 2011 to six years.

The top court upheld a lower court ruling that tax inspectors maintained “a pact of silence” while they received millions of euros from different businessmen who made false filings in their returns.

Operation Tax Agency also destroyed the political career of Josep Borrell, a former Socialist minister and candidate for prime minister in 2000, who named two of the tax inspectors found guilty in the case when he served as economy chief.

Operation Tax Agency also destroyed the political career of Josep Borrell, a former Socialist minister

While the confirmations of the convictions were sent back to a Barcelona court, which will finally hand them down, it will be up to the Attorney General’s Office to determine the amount of restitution the defendants will have to pay. Núñez was specifically convicted of buying off the tax inspectors so that they would turn a blind eye to the exemptions he was listing on his tax returns. Also convicted was Josep Maria Huguet, the former chief tax inspector in Catalonia, whose sentence was also dropped from 13 years to six years and 10 months.

The case originally broke in 1999 when then-High Court Judge Teresa Palacio discovered as part of a separate corruption probe that Huguet and another tax inspector, Ernesto Aguiar, held bank accounts in Switzerland.

The money reportedly came from businessman Javier De la Rosa, who was later acquitted in the case.

A Barcelona court investigated the case for eight years, taking statements from dozens of witnesses. The indictments were handed down in July 2007 but the trial did not start until two years later with sentencing set for 2010. However, the sentencing hearing was postponed for another year due to legal maneuvers.

Núñez served as president of Barça for 22 years. He also became the team’s first elected president in 1978.

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