Former Popular Party (PP) secretary general Ángel Acebes told Spain’s High Court on Tuesday that he had no knowledge of the existence of an irregular parallel accounting system within his party. He also stated that he had every faith in the honor of the PP’s former treasurer, Álvaro Lapuerta, who appeared before the same judge on Tuesday to answer questions about his alleged purchase of shares in online media outlet Libertad Digital using undeclared PP funds.
According to sources present at the hearing, Acebes denied having authorized the purchase of Libertad Digital shares between 2004 and 2005, although he did admit that the then-president of the company, Alberto Recarte, had communicated to him the need for the PP to get involved in a capital increase for the media firm. Acebes – who was three times a minister in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as party secretary general between 2004 and 2008 – claimed that he had passed the request on to another member of the party, but did not explain to whom.
Acebes told the judge that there was a clear separation between political and economic areas within the party. He was in charge of the political side, he explained, and the treasurer was in charge of the economic side. This theoretical separation of areas has also been used as an argument by three other ex-secretary generals from the party – María Dolores de Cospedal, Javier Arenas and Francisco Álvarez Cascos – who appeared before a judge as witnesses regarding the activities of another former PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, who is in jail awaiting trial on a range of corruption-related charges.
Acebes looked tense when he appeared before Ruz, but firm with his answers and familiar with all of the facts, according to sources present at the session. He tried to play down the importance of the meeting he held with the former president of Libertad Digital, explaining that it was a “minor” meeting among the many that he held each day as secretary general of the PP.
Acebes told the judge that there was a clear separation between the political and economic areas within the party
The questioning came after Acebes was named as an official suspect in the investigation into Luis Bárcenas’ secret ledgers, which purportedly reveal the irregular financing of the Popular Party over a period of up to 20 years. Acebes is alleged to have authorized the use of undeclared cash funds to purchase the shares in Libertad Digital, something he denies.
Former PP treasurer Álvaro Lapuerta also appeared before Ruz on Tuesday, but exercised his right not to answer the judge’s questions. Instead he handed over a letter – to which radio network Cadena Ser has had access – in which he stated that PP “circles” had suggested he should buy shares in Libertad Digital, and that he had agreed. He told the judge that he bought the shares with his own money and included them on his lists of assets.
Lapuerta bought shares worth €139,000, supposedly with money from the party that would later be returned to the undeclared slush fund allegedly run at the PP. But the judge believes that Lapuerta – and Luis Bárcenas’ wife – sold the shares for €209,000 and pocketed the money. In the letter given to the judge, the former PP treasurer denies that the shares were bought with party funds. “I included them on my declared list of assets and then I declared the capital gains on my tax return,” he wrote.
When they left the High Court in Madrid, both Acebes and Lapuerta were jeered by a dozen or so protestors waiting outside.
Lapuerta stated that he bought the shares with his own money and included them on official lists of his assets
Ruz has named Acebes as an official suspect in the case on the basis of a Supreme Court doctrine related to “commission by omission,” i.e. that the then-secretary general of the party had the opportunity to “exercise vigilance and a certain authority that would have allowed the avoidance” of both ex-treasurers’ actions.
Also named as suspects in the investigation into alleged illegal party financing at the PP are Bárcenas and his wife, Rosalía Iglesias.
The naming of Acebes and Lapuerta as official suspects in this branch of the wide-reaching inquiry was based on written notes in the Bárcenas ledgers made between 2004 and 2005 that reflect the purchase of Libertad Digital shares for the value of €446,100.
The wife of Bárcenas made a transfer of €149,000 in 2005 for the purchase of a house near a Spanish ski resort
According to statements that Bárcenas made to Judge Ruz in July 2013 and April of this year, Lapuerta was instructed in October 2004 to “find businessmen who were prepared” to buy shares in Libertad Digital, using money from the PP’s slush fund.
The purchase of these shares was carried out by Bárcenas’ wife, Rosalía Iglesias (for the value of €149,600), Álvaro Lapuerta (for the value of €139,700), and PP employee Francisco Yáñez (€121,000).
The three later sold their shares, but in the case of Lapuerta and Iglesias there was no indication that the money was returned to the party slush fund, constituting a crime of embezzlement. In fact, the judge’s investigation has revealed that Bárcenas’ wife made a transfer of €149,000 in 2005 for the purchase of a house near the Spanish ski resort of Baqueira Beret.