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CORRUPTION IN POLITICS

Catalan forces call on Unió leader to resign over embezzled EU funds

UDC misappropriated almost 400,000 euros from work training program organized by Andorra businessman

Josep Antoni Duran Lleida.
Josep Antoni Duran Lleida.

A day after a Catalan party that shares power in the region admitted to illegal funding in the 1990s, even its political partners are demanding the resignation of its leader, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida.

In a historical admission aimed at preventing the six defendants in the so-called “Pallerols” case from going to jail, Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC) — which is the junior partner in the CiU nationalist bloc currently in power — said it had misused over 388,000 euros of European Union funds meant for jobless training programs between 1994 and 1999.

An investigation got underway that year, and in 2000 Duran declared in public that he would step down if the charges of illegal party funding were proven.

Now, every single political party in the region is reminding him of that promise.

Even the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which recently entered a “stability agreement” with CiU to help it pass legislation and lead the region toward a sovereignty referendum, is asking for Duran’s head. “An individual’s main asset is his word, and I would like for all political leaders to make good on their word,” said Oriol Amorós, ERC’s deputy spokesman.

We are simply echoing his own words, that he would leave if it were proven"

“We are simply echoing his own words, that he would leave if it were proven that there was illegal funding,” said Jaume Collboni, spokesman for the Catalan Socialists. The Socialists also criticized the regional attorney’s office for accepting a settlement that prevents the case from going to trial. Under the deal, the individual prison sentences are reduced to less than two years, which means jail can be avoided altogether.

The legal settlement also means that Duran will no longer have to testify in a trial that would have extended over four months.

“These are very serious acts,” said Dolors Camats, spokeswoman for the green party Iniciativa per Catalunya. “We are talking about stealing public funds, about an organized ring, not about an individual who put his hand in the money box. The top chief of Unió, then and now, must go.”

The secretary general of the conservative Popular Party (PP), María Dolores de Cospedal, said Duran should not only step down as secretary general of CiU and president of UDC, but also from his position as a deputy in the Spanish Congress.

Yet in public at least, UDC is still trying to shake off responsibility in the case. Party spokeswoman Marta Llorens claimed that the party had no clue about what was going on, and that is why Duran will not be resigning. “Unió has been neither charged nor convicted — the premise is not fulfilled,” she said, despite the fact that Unió was a party in the case.

Unió has been neither charged nor convicted — the premise is not fulfilled”

Duran himself refused to appear in public throughout Wednesday even though he was at party headquarters all morning.

Spain’s attorney general, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, said the defendants in the Pallerols case did not get favorable treatment by the law, but admitted that the fact that it took nearly 20 years for the investigation to reach this point is “a scandal.” The delay was one of the reasons why the defendants were able to negotiate a favorable settlement.

This is the first time that a political party in Spain has publicly admitted to illegal financing. The Socialist Party was involved in a similar case in the late 1980s (the Filesa case), as established by a court in 1997.

The case involving Unió is named for Andorra businessman Fidel Pallerols, who cultivated a relationship with UDC. His companies began receiving regional subsidies to organize training courses for unemployed people with EU funds. UDC members saw a chance to use part of these funds to pay for the party’s campaign costs.

Half of the embezzled money — specifically, 197,388 euros — was used to buy furniture and equipment for UDC’s headquarters and to pay the wages of party members who did not perform any actual tasks but who were nevertheless included on the employee payrolls of Pallerols’ training academies.

The investigation pointed to 388,483 euros in misappropriated funds in total. Legal sources said UDC has already paid back that money through a loan.