The December 21 ballot might backfire on the Spanish Prime Minister.
During a hearing at the Catalan Parliament on Wednesday morning, the head of the Catalan anti-fraud office, Daniel de Alfonso, said Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera had come to see him to offer support, but only in exchange for dirt on his political rivals.
"M. Rivera came to see me and told me he would support me but he asked me to give them something", said Mr. De Alfonso.
On Wednesday, Público published recordings of De Alfonso in a private conversation with Spanish Home Secretary Jorge Fernández Diaz about how to frame Catalan separatist parties, politicians and their relatives.
De Alfonso also said some regional MPs had sent him private messages of support, and that 90% of the information his office dealt with originated in political parties.
"I might have let myself be recorded"; he said in reference to the conversations: "but not used".
He said he had offered to resign before his team—"it would have been the easy option"—but that they had rejected the idea.
At the time of publication, Mr. Rivera had not made any public statements refuting the allegation.
The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) formally called for Home Secretary Jorge Fernández Diaz to resign on Wednesday morning, following the publication of recordings of him plotting against Catalan separatist politicians.
PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez, speaking in Oropesa (Castilla La Mancha), said the minister's actions had aimed to "find data that accused or criminally incriminated leaders of other political parties", and that the "perverse use of state institutions" and the "use of state security forces" were "absolutely unacceptable".
"The use of public institutions to partisan ends is the maximum expression of the corruption we must stamp out in public life", he added.
He said Mr. Fernández Diaz's actions were "an abuse of power that breaks the essential rules of democracy" and placed responsibility for the minister's future on Mariano Rajoy.
"In any advanced democracy, the Home Secretary should offer his resignation today. He has not done so, so the interim Prime Minister, Mr. Rajoy, should dismiss him, also immediately."
Spain's two main police trade unions, the Unified Police Trade Union (SUP) and the Unified Association of Civil Guards (AUGC), called on Home Secretary Jorge Fernández Diaz to resign immediately on Wednesday after recordings of him plotting against Catalan separatists were published online.
The organisations issued a joint statement on the "conspiracy against pro-independence Catalan politicians" which would "reveal a use of state resources to partisan ends that would be absolutely unacceptable in a democracy".
The unions have previously called for the Home Secretary's resignation for meeting with former IMF boss Rodrigo Rato (who was being investigated for fraud), for awarding police bravery medals to a religious statue and a national newspaper editor, and for politicising police promotion exams.
"This supposed persecution of his political rivals", continued the statement: "using the tools of state implies a repugnant end to a tenure marked by arrogance and a lack of respect towards the most basic rules of democracy".
In a brief statement on Wednesday evening, the Popular Party announced the chairman and secretary of the party's Rights & Guarantees committee had "provisionally suspended" the Mayor of Granada, José Torres Hurtado and his town planning councillor, Isabel Nieto, as members of the party "for reasons of urgency".
Police in the southern city arrested Mr. Torres, Ms. Nieto and several others on Wednesday morning, and searched Granada City Hall, as part of an ongoing fraud investigation centred on a new shopping centre that was built there.
During a press conference on Wednesday evening, Mr. Torres professed not do know why he had been arrested: "I will keep working for this city for the time allotted, for as long as I am allowed to or as long as God gives me health".
The PP said it would open a formal investigation into the pair at the next meeting of the committee.
Ciudadanos has announced it is walking away from the local coalition deal it had done to allow the Popular Party to govern City Hall in Granada, after Mayor José Torre Hurtado (PP) was arrested on Wednesday morning along with the town planning councillor and several others.
"Ciudadanos is a party that is incompatible with corruption and corruption cannot govern Granada", said Luis Salvador, a Ciudadanos MP and the leader of the party's group in Granada City Hall: "the residents of Granda don't deserve it".
In the local elections in May last year, the PP lost five seats and its overall majority of one (from 16 to 11 on a 27-seat City Council), and needed the agreement with Ciudadanos, which won four seats, to put together a minimum working majority.
Albert Rivera tweeted that his party would show "zero tolerance" with corruption: "Ciudadanos Granada is walking away from the agreement", after the arrest of Mr. Hurtado.
The Mayor of Granada (Andalusia), José Torres Hurtado (Popular Party), was arrested by police from the tax & economic crimes squad on Wednesday morning in a fraud operation, local media reported, along with the town planning councillor, Isabel Nieto, and several others.
Officers were searching Granada City Hall, where Mr. Torres has been Mayor since 2003, the town planning department and several homes and business premises.
Granada Hoy reported Ms. Nieto was being investigated for abuse of authority in the construction of a large modern shopping centre outside the city called Serrallo Plaza.
Officers are searching for proof of bribery, rigged public tenders and the illegal reclassification of land for construction purposes.
Granada, home to the world famous Alhambra Palace, is the 19th largest city in Spain (~237,000 inhabitants), and the capital of one of Andalusia's eight provinces.
In June 2015, the director of the Alhambra, María del Mar Villafranca, was arrested as part of a money laundering investigation, centring on the awarding of a contract to supply audio guides to tourists.
The former long-time Popular Party Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá, denied during a press conference on Thursday morning that she had ever committed fraud during her time at City Hall. "I have not contributed to, ordered or ever known about money laundering or hidden accounts anywhere. It is all absolutely false", she said, denying that she was "an all powerful figure who controlled everything" in the eastern coastal city: "I never took anything, I live in a rented flat". She accused her opponents and the media of mounting a political attack on her, complained about leaks from judicial investigations that are supposed to be secret, and railed against Spain's new alternative left parties: "I do not want to waste a single minute of my life with the anti-system radical left…rancid communism". Resigning, she said, "would be an admission of guilt". "I am not resigning. I'm not even thinking about it". She said her plan was to "abide by the law and the [party's] statutes", and not to pay any attention to "popular, unconstitutional and totalitarian courts". She thanked several senior Popular Party leaders, including Mariano Rajoy and María Dolores de Cospedal, for their ongoing support.
The regional Appeal Court in Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands) has rejected a request by defence teams, the Public Prosecutor and the Attorney General's office to drop fraud charges against Cristina Federica de Borbón y Grecia—Princess Cristina, King Felipe's sister—in the ongoing Nóos case, the court said in an 85-page procedural ruling on Friday morning. Her defence team and government lawyers had argued that the "Botin doctrine"—which rejects charges if the Spanish government decides not to prosecute, even if third parties have filed private criminal complaints—should be applied. The judge ruled that the existence of a private criminal complaint by Manos Limpias was enough for the Princess to have to sit through the whole trial in the dock.
Mariano Rajoy said during a TV interview on Wednesday morning that he still wanted to be re-appointed Prime Minister and that the Popular Party should still govern, despite refusing the King's offer to try to form a new executive last Friday. He admitted the numbers did not add up in parliament for his party but did not explain why he had not resigned after declining the royal commission. He said is was "impossible" for the PP to govern "without some kind of agreement with the PSOE" but replied "no, frankly no" when asked if the Popular Party would abstain to allow the Socialist Party a chance to form a minority government. He dodged a question about what Spain is supposed to do if no one at all appears ready to accept responsibility for trying to put one together. The day after another new corruption scandal concerning senior leaders of his party in Valencia emerged, and as Transparency International published a new corruption report saying Spain is "plagued by nepotism" and "plagued by an almost endless number of corruption scandals", Mr. Rajoy feigned ignorance about his party's misdoings: "I don't know if the PP is a suspect. I don't know exactly what's going on".
The 2015 version of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index slams Spain, which lost two points compared to 2014 falling to 36th out of the 167 countries surveyed. "Spain and Hungary are both plagued by nepotism and a lack of transparency", says the organisation. "Spain is plagued by an almost endless number of corruption scandals", said its Europe director, Anne Koch, citing "Mariano Rajoy's conservative People's Party, in which politicians were accused of embezzling public funds, bribery and abuse of office. Tax evasion and hunting elephants by the Spanish royal family". In the German version of their story, Transparency ran with a photo of Rajoy holding his hands up and the headline "Spain is more corrupt than Qatar".
Pedro J. Ramírez, writing in his new project El Español, explained the significance of the front page used by Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera during the Antena 3 electoral debate on Monday night. He says he "personally highlighted the front page headline" with a biro and, after having a photo taken of the original 'Bárcenas document', took it straight to the high court accompanied by the paper's lawyer. The document showed regular illicit payments had been made to Mariano Rajoy while he was a minister. "When Nick Clegg saw the documents, he told me Cameron […] would only have lasted 'a few hours' after the publication of something that big", he writes: "But in Spain, British or North American democratic habits are conspicuously absent". Mr. Rajoy, of course, did not resign and is now running for re-election.
El Español reported Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, had helped former Popular Party treasurer Luis Bárcenas—at the centre of one of the country's largest corruption stories in recent years—in a failed attempt to try to influence the police investigation into him, via an intermediary, powerful Spanish media baron Mauricio Casals (La Razón, Atresmedia). The news site, which published a copy of a handwritten note sent by Mr. Bárcenas to the judge and public prosecutor, reported the "aim of the conversations in 2012 and 2013 between Bárcenas and Soraya, with Casals as the intermediary, centred on trying to have the police rectify the content of at least one of its reports". The Deputy Prime Minister is set to take part in an election debate on Antena 3 on Monday evening, substituting for Mariano Rajoy. El Español reported Mr. Casals had confirmed meeting Mr. Bárcenas but that he had "vehemently denied" doing anything to favour him.
Spanish media reported on Wednesday morning that the Civil Guard had arrested Andreu Viloca, the treasurer of Artur Mas's party CDC (Convergencia, part of Junts Pel Sí at the Catalan elections in September), on suspicion of taking bribes in exchange for public works contracts. Mr. Viloca was arrested during a search of the party's central headquarters building in Barcelona. The director general of the Catalan government's public works department, Josep Antoni Rossell, was also detained. El Mundo reported 20 other homes, businesses and public companies were also being searched. El País reported seven other businessmen had been arrested. Wednesday's operation forms part of the anti-fraud case being investigated by a judge in El Vendrell (Catalonia). CDC party HQ was searched at the end of August.
The Nóos fraud trial involving Princess Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín will begin on January 11, 2016, after Spain's general election but before the new parliament is opened in Madrid, Spanish media reported on Tuesday morning. Investigating judge José Castro issued a 150-page ruling in December 2014 indicting the princess on counts of being an accomplice to two counts of tax fraud. She will be the first member of the Spanish Royal Family to be tried in open court for a crime. She could face up to 6.5 years in prison if convicted. Her husband Iñaki Urdangarin will be tried for embezzlement, influence peddling, falsifying documents, administrative fraud, competition fraud, tax fraud and money laundering. 15 others, including the former Popular Party First Minister of The Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, will also stand trial accused of similar charges. In June, King Felipe issued a royal decree stripping his sister of her title as Duchess of Palma.
El Mundo embargoed its front page until 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning to then publish "the 3% document", reporting that the piece of paper—containing typed accounting entries in two columns as well as handwritten annotations—proves the existence of a 3% commission paid to Artur Mas's party CDC in Catalonia in exchange for the awarding of five public works contracts in Catalan towns for a total of more than €11 million euros. "Here, in black and white", says the Spanish daily: "is the famous 3%", which in the cases annotated on the sheet of paper meant more than €343,000 in income for CDC. It forms part of the documentation found "on July 23 last in the safe of Jordi Sumarroca, the former CEO of Teyco and son of one of the founders of Convergència" (CDC). The contracts were for a park, an outdoor swimming pool, two public buildings and a car park. and all were awarded between "March and June 2009".
María del Mar Villafranca, the director general of the board of trustees of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain’s most visited tourist attraction, said during a press conference following her arrest on Thursday by police in Granada that she would not resign and that she had cooperated with officers from the Economic & Tax Crimes squad investigating a money laundering case related to contracts to supply audio guides to tourists. A spokesman for the National Police in Granada told The Spain Report that Mrs. Villafranca had been arrested along with four others. She said she would offer to resign if she was indicted by a judge.
Three Socialist Party (PSOE) MPs, all former senior leaders in the Andalusian regional government, resigned on Wednesday after a Supreme Court judge submitted a 129-page petition to the Spanish Congress requesting leave to indict them on corruption charges related to a billion euro early retirement funds fraud. The petition details “arbitrary” budget modifications, decrees, orders and instructions that “generated grave risks for the whole system” and produced “ostensible damaging effects”. A spokesman for the Socialist Party told The Spain Report by telephone the three had offered their resignation immediately and that the Socialist Party was confident they would be able to demonstrate their innocence.
In the south-eastern region of Murcia, the election of Popular Party candidate Pedro Antonio Sánchez as regional First Minister was in doubt on Wednesday, after a judge in Lorca agreed to study a private prosecution filed in regard to irregularities during the construction of an auditorium in the town, where Mr. Sánchez was mayor. He said on Wednesday that he would resign if he was formally named as a suspect by the judge. The leader of the Socialist Party in the region, Rafael González Tovar, asked if Ciudadanos would continue to support Mr. Sánchez in the upcoming vote for regional First Minister.
In Andalusia, the Spanish Socialist Party and Ciudadanos signed a deal that will allow Susana Díaz to be voted First Minster of the southern region, likely as early as Thursday, after more than two months of cross-party negotiations in the wake of the regional elections on March 22. Ciudadanos will not enter the regional government, instead remaining in opposition in the regional parliament. Albert Rivera’s party is prepared to wait to see if the Supreme Court indicts former socialist first minister Manuel Chaves on fraud charges.
Miguel Ángel Cámara, who has been Mayor of the city of Murcia since 1995, was still Mayor this evening but said this morning that he is ready to do whatever is necessary for the Popular Party to continue governing in the region, in allusion to the possibility of his resignation, following the resignation late on Tuesday night of the central government representative in the region, Joaquín Bascuñana. A spokeswoman for the central government office in the region confirmed to The Spain Report that Mr. Bascuñana had resigned “to make it easier to govern the region and form a stable government”. Ciudadanos had pressured the Popular Party to exclude indicted politicians from their team as a pre-condition for coalition or parliamentary talks. Mr. Bascuñana was indicted last year in the Novo Carthago case, which is investigating a plan to build 10,000 houses, a golf course and a hotel near the south-eastern city of Cartagena.
Vozpópuli writes in an editorial that the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Madrid has filed a criminal complaint against the newspaper’s editor, Jesús Cacho, for publishing an article on September 21, 2014 that denounced corruption within the judicial system in Albacete (Castilla La Mancha). A judge, who was not named in the article, took offence, and at a first court hearing in March, argued Mr. Cacho did not have a right to protect his sources, says the newspaper, and asked him if he had been paid to publish the article. Vozpópuli says it will defend itself “in the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and wherever else is necessary in defence of freedom of speech”: “The Justice Minister, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the judges in Albacete are very wrong if they think that at this point in Spanish history they are going to make us cower with this criminal complaint”.
Seven out of ten Spanish businessmen say corruption and bribery are common practice in Spain, reports Expansión, citing a new report published by EY. 69% of managers say “bribes and corruption would not only be justified but are habitual in business dealings” in the country, double the average figure in other European countries, and higher even than the 61% average reported for emerging markets or fast-growth countries. Spain, which ranks 13th in the list of 38 nations surveyed, is worse than Italy, Egypt, Turkey or Russia.
The ruling by a judge in Seville that the awarding of a new contract for the Aznalcóllar mine just eight days before the regional elections on March 22 did not “observe even minimum standards” has presented Mrs. Diaz with an additional large obstacle to any successful negotiation. The Andalusian Popular Party immediately withdrew from its talks with the socialists. “If we have to go to new elections, we will do”, said Mrs. Díaz.
Barcelona Football Club, its current chairman Josep María Bartomeu and its former chairman Sandro Rosell are all to stand trial for tax crimes, a judge in Madrid decided on Wednesday. They are accused of defrauding €13 million from Spanish tax authorities in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The public prosecutor wants jail sentences for Mr. Bartomeu and Mr. Rosell and to fine Barça €22.2 million, Mr. Rosell €25.1 million and Mr. Bartomeu €3.8 million.
The First Minister of Andalusia, Susana Diaz—still trying to reach a deal with other parties to be allowed to govern—rushed to suspend the awarding of a new contract at the Aznalcóllar mine after a judge in Seville declared the process was “full of irregularities” and “was not observing even minimum standards”, El Mundo reported. The PSOE has been governing in the southern region for the past 33 years, and attitudes towards corruption are now a big part of the coalition or parliamentary support debate. The judge said the consortium awarded the new contract on March 16—just eight days before the Andalusian elections—”did not fulfil a single one of the requirements laid down in the bid specification”.
The suggestion from Ciudadanos, which forms part of a list of demands Albert Rivera is presenting as an anti-corruption plan, comes 10 days before local and regional elections are held in Spain. Minority PP governments, coalitions or bill-by-bill support in regional parliaments are likely outcomes in the Spanish regions this year, and Ciudadanos is widely seen as a likely partner, or even the only likely partner, to the Popular Party.
Spanish tax inspectors have uncovered a stash of twelve luxury cars in a warehouse in Barcelona belonging to Jordi Pujol’s son, reports El Mundo. He declared that each was purchased for under €10,000, whereas just one of the twelve—which include two Ferraris, two Lamborghinis and several Porsches, one with a Catalan flag painted on the bonnet—is estimated to be worth more than €500,000. Tax authorities estimate the twelve are worth some €1.6 million in total.
El Diario continues its onslaught against the PP. After revealing the Naseiro slush fund papers existed right back at the end of the 1980s, and after headlining yesterday that José María Aznar controlled the whole show, today the online newspaper is running with: “Fraga and Aznar’s PP dished out extra money, paid undeclared wages and defrauded the Social Security system”, adding that while it was paying its senior leaders all of the extra cash, it was not paying its workers’ taxes and social security. The paper names former Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, who was Rajoy’s Justice Minister until September 2014, as one of the recipients.
Spain becomes the first eurozone country to be fined for false accounting. The European Commission will impose an €18.93 million fine on Spain for cooking the books in Valencia in 2012, where the Regional Audit Office was “seriously negligent”, failing to record health expenditure or apply the accrual accounting principle. In a statement, the EC said this was the first time it had made use of new economic governance legislation to fine any member country: “to send a clear signal: The Commission is ready to use its new powers to ensure the statistical basis for our economic decision making is reliable – be it on the local, regional or national level”. The Commission specifies the fine will be imposed on the Kingdom of Spain, not the region of Valencia.
ElDiario.es continued with its leak exclusives on PP corruption, reporting former AP/PP treasurer Rosendo Naseiro had left a series of secret documents, sworn before a notary in Alicante in 1990, that state the man ultimately controlling the purse strings for the off-the-books accounts and funds was none other than former Popular Party Prime Minister José María Aznar, at the time leading the PP in opposition. As of Wednesday night, there had been no official statement from either the PP or Mr. Aznar regarding the story.