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Catalan nationalists shun former leader Pujol to save sovereignty process

Independence movement distances itself from ex-regional ruler as investigations deepen

Jordi Pujol (center, holding jacket) with Josep Antoni Duran (to his right) at the head of the pro-independence march on Catalan national day in 2012.
Jordi Pujol (center, holding jacket) with Josep Antoni Duran (to his right) at the head of the pro-independence march on Catalan national day in 2012.

Jordi Pujol may be considered the father of modern Catalan nationalism by many people, but the recent revelations that he kept millions of euros in overseas tax havens for more than three decades, now mean that he has become a liability for the movement driving for a referendum on sovereignty for the region in November, led by regional premier Artur Mas.

Now aged 84, Pujol ran Catalonia for 23 years as head of the nationalist party Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), one half of the CiU nationalist bloc that Mas leads, and formally threw in his lot with the independence movement in 2011.

But a week ago Pujol admitted in a letter that he has kept a fortune in tax havens for 34 years, and has only recently settled his dues with the Tax Agency. Critics say that Pujol has now confessed in an attempt to take the heat away from his seven children, two of whose business activities are being investigated by police. In the letter, Pujol claimed that it was his own father, Florenci Pujol, who made a fortune and passed it on to his grandchildren in 1980.

Anybody who says this hasn’t affected the process is wrong”

Unió leader Josep Antoni Duran

This latest scandal involving the Pujol clan could not come at a worse time: with just three months to go before the proposed independence referendum, which has been rejected as anti-Constitutional by Spain’s main parties, the Catalan regional government has lost a valuable asset, while publicly claiming that Pujol’s fall from grace would not affect the campaign. “The country moves on. We are strong, and we have many assets, and the route map is already agreed, supported by a great many people,” said Mas on Thursday.

But Josep Antoni Duran, the head of CiU’s partner Unió, made it clear that the Pujol affair has impacted negatively on the independence campaign, and along with other pro-independence parties has called for CDC to clean out its stable and disassociate itself from the Pujol clan. “Anybody who says this hasn’t affected the process is wrong. I think it will affect it,” he said on Thursday.

The Pujol family’s businesses were awarded lucrative contracts over the last two decades, which many claim were handed out through false bidding.

Pujol senior’s eldest son Jordi Pujol Ferrusola has been targeted by investigators for over a year after a former girlfriend told the police that he often travelled to Andorra and returned with bags full of €500 notes.

Oriol Pujol, the current secretary general of the CDC, is also being targeted in an ongoing investigation into bid fixing for ITV vehicle inspection stations in Catalonia. Last September, a judge said there were “reasonable evidence” that Pujol had played a key part in the fraud.

CDC is also under investigation for illegal funding activities. Last year public prosecutors said up to €10 million was laundered through Barcelona’s Palau de la Música auditorium, a landmark Catalan cultural institution, €6.6 million of it paid by Ferrovial, a major construction company.

Meanwhile, the Anticorruption Attorney’s Office has advised the Barcelona court that is investigating the case brought by far-right union Manos Limpias to require the Tax Agency to hand over the statements made by Pujol, his wife, and seven children regarding the inherited fortune that was not declared.

Manos Limpas, which also brought charges against judge Baltasar Garzón in 2012 for overstepping his authority in calling for an investigation into crimes against humanity during the Civil War and the Franco era, has called for Pujol to be investigated for bribery, prevarication, misappropriation of funds, influence peddling, money laundering, falsifying public documents, and other alleged offenses.