MADRID – The conservative party governing Spain faced another day of judicial tribulations on Monday as several ongoing corruption trials continued to capture the country’s attention.
The right-wing Popular Party’s former secretary general and Spain’s ex-development minister, Francisco Alvarez-Cascos, testified early in the day as a witness in one of the numerous cases and denied any knowledge of the alleged rigging of public contracts that took place at the local, regional and national levels while he was serving in the cabinet.
“I never received any calls nor any instructions related to the adjudication of public bids,” Alvarez-Cascos told the judges trying the so-called “Gürtel” case, which involves a wide-spanning network of allegedly corrupt participants encompassing politicians, public servants and businessmen.
“At the development ministry, giving special favors was impossible,” the longtime politician, 69, added.
Alvarez-Cascos, who was also Spain’s deputy prime minister between 1996-2000 and regional president of Asturias between 2011-2012, claimed his stint at the development ministry – responsible for the country’s infrastructure and public works – was an era of “the utmost transparency and objectivity.”
His statement contradicted court testimony given in October by the Gürtel network’s alleged ringleader, Francisco Correa Sanchez, who said he and the PP’s treasurer colluded to ensure that lucrative government contracts were awarded to selected big companies in exchange for a 3 percent commission.
The illegal earnings would then end up in the pockets of those involved, and also in the PP’s slush fund, which was allegedly used to finance electoral campaigns, pay cash-in-hand bonuses and bribes and to renovate the party’s headquarters in Madrid.
Alvarez-Cascos denied this version of events and assured that neither he nor his subordinates at the ministry were induced by PP officials to benefit specific businesses.
Prosecutors believe Alvarez-Cascos received some of the commissions based on the initials “PAC” (possibly standing for “Paco – a diminutive of Francisco – Alvarez-Cascos”) found in a secret ledger detailing the network’s hidden accounting.
The so-called “Barcenas Papers” – named after the PP’s former treasurer Luis Barcenas, one of the main defendants in the Gürtel trial – were published by the daily El Pais in January 2013.
They showed the alleged payment of unaccounted-for bonuses in cash ranging from 5,000-15,000 euros ($5,600-$16,800) per month to high-ranking PP members and businessmen between 1990-2009.
A month after the papers were published, PP employees broke into Barcenas’ office at the party’s headquarters and absconded with his two personal computers, according to the former treasurer’s own account.
Barcenas was put in pre-trial detention in June 2013 due to what judge Pablo Ruz of the National Court described as “a high risk of flight and to prevent the destruction of evidence.”
A few weeks later, Barcenas gave an exclusive interview to El Mundo newspaper while in prison in which he said that everything in the papers was true and that the PP had been illegally funding itself for 20 years.
He added that the party had been receiving opaque money from businessmen and he, as party treasurer, would later redistribute the cash among top officials and covertly pay for over-costs in electoral campaigns.
Barcenas is now a subject of several proceedings, including the “Gürtel” macro-trial and the so-called “Barcenas Case,” in which 32 people, including the former mayor of Toledo and the ex-justice and interior minister, have been indicted.
The Gürtel case is the biggest political corruption scandal in Spanish history, resulting in an estimated loss to the public purse of at least 120 million euros.
The case derived its codename from Correa, who was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of money laundering, bribery, influence peddling and tax evasion, among other charges.
The word “Gürtel” in German is a rough translation of the Spanish “Correa,” which means “belt.”
In a third court case, known as the “Barcenas’ Computers” trial, the PP requested the recusal of the presiding magistrate, Rosa Freire, for her alleged links to the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).
In a decision handed down on Monday, a regional court in Madrid rejected the PP’s appeal for Freire to be disqualified from the case.
As of June, more than 900 former and current PP officials had been convicted or were being investigated for corruption.
Every year, the Spanish treasury loses an estimated 88 billion euros due to public sector fraud and embezzlement.