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POLITICAL CORRUPTION

Prosecutor accuses Catalan CDC party of receiving €6.6 million in kickbacks

Construction company Ferrovial allegedly funneled illegal commissions through leading Barcelona cultural association

The anti-corruption attorney believes there is sufficient evidence to prove that Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), one half of the CiU coalition that governs Catalonia, has been guilty of illegal funding activities.

The money was channeled through a landmark Catalan cultural institution, Barcelona’s Palau de la Música auditorium, whose longtime chief Félix Millet has already admitted to systematically sacking its coffers for years. The attorney puts the total amount paid by Ferrovial, a large construction company, at 6.6 million euros, adding that, in all, almost 10 million euros have vanished somewhere within the Palau’s accounts over the years.

In a 37-page report delivered to the investigating judge, Attorney Emilio Sánchez Ulled details how Ferrovial paid “illegal commissions” to “individuals with sufficient political influence on the agencies in charge of awarding large-scale public contracts.” Sánchez Ulled believes it is evident that Ferrovial paid money to party officials in order to secure major projects like the City of Justice or the Barcelona subway’s line 9.

The scheme took shape under the premiership of veteran nationalist leader Jordi Pujol, who ruled the region from 1980 to 2003. The current Catalan premier, Artur Mas, is today’s CDC president.

CDC is not the only Catalan party to feel the heat of the justice system

But rather than pay this money directly into CDC accounts, Ferrovial used the Palau as a go-between institution, with Millet and an aide serving as intermediaries. The construction company pretended to be a sponsor of the arts by giving money to the Palau, but rather than spend it on arts programs, Palau managers rerouted it to CDC representatives. The main form of payment, writes the attorney, were “opaque cash deliveries,” with these alone worth 2.3 million euros between 2002 and 2008.

Investigators have confirmed the participation in this scheme of former CDC treasurer Carles Torrent (who died in 2005), his successor Daniel Osácar and a high-ranking official named Jaume Camps. “In any case, party chiefs must have necessarily intervened, although they have not been properly identified,” reads the report.

"Whether the original initiative came from CDC or from Ferrovial, the fact is that the criminal agreement was simple yet devastating: in exchange for large sums of money calculated according to a percentage of the business volume that Ferrovial expected to make out of the contracts with Catalan agencies, CDC officials – at the very least the treasurers - had to use their position to ensure that the regional and local agencies’ decision-making bodies would generate a constant flow of contracts for the company,” the report goes on.

Besides the illegal commissions to CDC, the attorney also lists other irregularities committed by Palau managers, including misappropriation of funds, document forgery, illicit real estate transactions and tax fraud.

CDC is not the only Catalan party to feel the heat of the justice system. The other half of the ruling coalition, Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC), recently admitted to misusing over 388,000 euros of European Union funds meant for jobless training programs between 1994 and 1999. The historical admission was aimed at preventing the six defendants in the case from going to jail.

An investigation got underway as early as 1999, and the following year party chief Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, a veteran of Catalan politics, declared in public that he would step down if the charges of illegal party funding were proven. Despite the recent developments, Duran has refused to keep that promise.

Nor are Catalan parties the only ones under investigation. At the national level, the ruling Popular Party is also suspected of illegal funding, this time through direct donations by builders and developers whose gifts amply surpassed the legal limit. In some cases, the donors were already government contractors, which legally barred them from giving money. The Spanish Socialist Party was involved in an illegal funding case in the late 1980s (Caso Filesa), as established by a court in 1997.