Thirty-seven people who allegedly took part in a kickbacks-for-contracts scheme involving businessmen and members of Spain’s ruling People’s party stood trial at the national court, where developments were likely to prove irresistible to even the most jaded observers of the country’s enduring political turmoil.
Billed as the trial of the year, the Gürtel case involves Swiss bank accounts, clowns, fake invoices and, most arrestingly of all, several former senior PP members.
The figure at the centre of the proceedings is Francisco Correa, a businessman with close ties to the PP who is accused of paying bribes to party officials between 1999 and 2006 in return for contracts to carry out public works and organise events. The investigation was codenamed Gürtel, the German translation ofcorrea (belt).
Among the defendants are three former PP treasurers, including Luis Bárcenas, a former ally of Spain’s acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. The party itself is also alleged to have benefited from illegally obtained funds, though it is not facing criminal charges.
Along with his associates, Correa – who enjoyed being called Don Vito in reference to the Marlon Brando character in The Godfather – is accused of misusing public funds and setting up offshore accounts to keep millions of euros at a safe remove.
The scandal, which has dogged the PP since 2009, led to the resignation two years ago of the health minister, Ana Mato. Her ex-husband, Jesús Sepúlveda, is on trial for embezzlement, fraud and peddling influence while mayor of Pozuelo de Alarcón, west of Madrid.
The family is alleged to have accepted holidays, presents including Louis Vuitton products, a Jaguar and even children’s birthday parties at which clowns performed from Correa’s companies. The trial is expected to last several months.
Rajoy’s party has been plagued by corruption scandals in recent years. The former International Monetary Fund chief Rodrigo Rato, who was also a PP economy minister and deputy prime minister, is on trial at the national court for allegedly misusing corporate credit cards while in charge of two leading Spanish banks.
Last month, Rita Barberá, a PP senator, resigned from the party after the supreme court announced an investigation into allegations of money-laundering during her two-and-a-half decades as mayor of Valencia.
An opinion poll in February ranked corruption as Spanish voters’ second biggest concern after unemployment, while the recently deposed leader of the country’s Socialist party repeatedly refused to do anything to facilitate Rajoy’s return to office following two inconclusive general elections on the grounds that his party was too corrupt.
However, despite the blizzard of allegations enveloping the PP, it was the only party to increase its seat count in June’s second general election. A poll conducted at the end of September suggested that the party would again take the most votes and pick up a further 22 seats were a third election to be held, although an overall majority would once again elude it.
Source: The Guardian