Tax Agency uncovers alleged wind farm payoff scheme in Castilla y León

Regional officials and businessmen may have received €110 million, say auditors

A wind farm in Valladolid province. EFE

Private renewable energy firms may have paid more than €110 million in commissions to government officials and local businessmen in Castilla y León to help them obtain licenses and push through paperwork to install wind farms across the region between 2004 and 2007, tax inspectors said.

In a December 30 report obtained by EL PAÍS, seven transactions detail how energy firms paid local businessmen and people connected to the regional Popular Party (PP) government either directly or through stocks in companies created to build and operate wind farms.

The Spanish AEAT tax agency has turned over the 94-page report to anti-corruption prosecutors to investigate if money laundering or other crimes may have been committed.

Those suspected of taking part in the commission deals are businessmen and public officials in Castilla y León

Those suspected of taking part in the commission deals are public officials in Castilla y León; go-betweens who negotiated on behalf of the energy firms and were able to obtain administrative approvals; and companies belonging to local businessmen who, “without any valid economic motives, received the transfer of funds and stock for an amount superior to €110 million,” inspectors said

In some cases, the firms transferred stock in the businesses set up in such a way so as to multiply the initial capital invested by hundreds, even thousands, of times.

Among those who may have benefited from this alleged scheme were officials from Castilla y León’s economy department, which authorized the wind farms.

EL PAÍS was unable to reach Rafael Delgado Núñez, who was the deputy chief of the economy department at the time and the official responsible for signing the administrative permits.

In some cases, the firms multiplied the initial capital invested by hundreds, even thousands, of times

Along with other officials, Delgado Núñez was called in to give a statement before tax inspectors. According to his testimony, which was included in the audit, he said the procedure in the region was “very efficient” because there was hardly any legal framework supporting these operations at the time and the government wanted to ensure that “the companies that applied had regional interests.”

One of the main figures in the report is Alberto Esgueva, who until 2006 was CEO of Excal – a public entity formed by the Castilla y León government to promote regional exports. His own firm, according to inspectors, received the most commissions from the operations. Since September Esgueva has been living in Poland, where he runs a real estate business.

He declined to be interviewed for this article despite various attempts to contact him through his secretary.

A spokesman for the region’s economy department said he had no knowledge about the report but added that all the transactions were legally carried out and there was no evidence that commissions were paid.

Tomás Villanueva, who has headed up Castilla y León’s economy department since 2003 and is considered a close aide to PP regional premier Juan Vicente Herrera, on Monday stated that, after carrying out a “first check,” the paperwork authorizing the wind farms under question by the Tax Agency “was correct and in line with the law.”

Villanueva’s name surfaces in one part of the audit where tax inspectors mentioned that Delgado Núñez “played an important role” in both the economic and education departments,

In their report, inspectors alleged that numerous payments helped pave the way for the regional government to make quick decisions about the installation of wind farms. In one case, the money helped overcome the bureaucracy that had been blocking the project for six years.

Utility companies that wanted to install wind farms allegedly set up joint venture vehicles with local businesses and officials who had government ties to the region, the report said.

The association with the local businessman or government official would allegedly help push through the paperwork and, once the electric companies had received authorization to build the wind farm, they would pay back the investors more than what they had initially put into the joint venture.

A regional economic department official said there was no evidence that commissions were paid

One of the renewable energy companies that paid out a large amount to install a wind farm was Preneal, owned by Eduardo Merigó, the former president of Visa in Spain and an ex-secretary of state in former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez’s Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) administration (1977-1982). He told tax inspectors that he “felt like a victim of the system.”

Merigó also declined to speak to EL PAÍS for this article.

Preneal paid €6 million to San Cayetano Wind, which belonged to Esgueva, without “any obligation or compensation,” the report states.

Another €7 million was paid to Cronos Global, which was half owned by Esgueva. Last December, a Preneal representative told tax inspectors that Cronos had nothing to do with obtaining permits or building wind farms.

The projects have still not been approved, but Cronos Global received €7 million after putting down a €1.5 million initial investment.

Tax inspectors have also discovered suspicious bank transfers by Cronos Global at the beginning of the recession of up to €100 million to Poland and the United States while around €38 million was transferred to Spain.

Tax inspectors have also discovered suspicious bank transfers by Cronos Global of up to €100 million

The other partners in Cronos Global was Luis María García Clerigó and his family.

Clerigó is the president of the now-defunct Parqueolid, a construction firm in Valladolid. When contacted by EL PAÍS, Clerigó said he had difficulty remembering anything because he suffered a stroke seven years ago.

Parqueolid is under investigation in another case for allegedly receiving €50 million from the Castilla y León regional government to build new offices for the economic department. A judge investigating this case has targeted Delgado Núñez, who served as deputy chief of the regional economy department for eight years, and is also sifting through his bank accounts.