The man who had a hand in the accounts of the Partido Popular for the best part of 30 years had millions of euros in bank accounts in Switzerland and the Bermudas, it was revealed at the end of last week.
Former party treasurer and senator for Cantabria, Luis Bárcenas, has been under investigation since 2009 as part of the Gürtel case in which he is accused of receiving hand-outs for helping shamed businessman Francisco Correa put over-inflated invoices through the party’s accounts.
As a result of implication in the case in 2009 Bárcenas left his post as party treasurer and in 2010 he stood down as senator and gave up his membership of the PP. Nevertheless he could still be seen regularly in the party’s Madrid headquarters where he had use of an office containing documentation in order to prepare his defence.
This week’s developments stemmed from the response to a letter rogatory filed by the judge in charge of the investigation to Switzerland. This revealed that Bárcenas had had as much as 22 million euros in Swiss bank accounts, in the name of the Panama-registered firm Sinequanon, which were gradually emptied after he had been formerly accused in the Gürtel case.
Ten million euros of the funds in Switzerland were legalised in Spain last year, according to Bárcena’s lawyer taking advantage of the fiscal amnesty that ended on November 30th. While the Treasury Ministry denied that Bárcenas had used the amnesty, the Socialist party went one step further and accused the government of passing a modification in the amnesty conditions to suit the needs of the former treasurer. The PP has described this accusation as “bordering on the insane”.
Meanwhile it has emerged that a large part of the funds transferred from Switzerland went to Argentina, where Bárcenas had a share in ‘La Moralaja’, an enormous estate covering an area half the size of Madrid in the province of Salta, that mainly produced citrus fruits.
His partner in La Moraleja is Ángel Sanchís, another former PP party treasurer who was in the post when Bárcenas joined the organisation in 1982. Bárcenas became his great friend, or even disciple, and it was Sanchís who named him accounts manager in 1991, a post he held until he became national treasurer in 2008.
In 1989 Sanchís himself had been at the centre of a scandal involving the alleged illegal funding of the party. ‘Caso Naseiro’ was shelved, however, after evidence obtained from phone tapping was declared null and void.
Detectives working on the Gürtel case suspected that Bárcenas was attempting to move his Swiss funds out of Europe. In 2011 he created the firm ‘Conosur Land’, a suspicious “farming” company based at his home address in the centre of Madrid. The information received recently from Switzerland confirmed that Bárcenas had told them that he was emptying his accounts to invest in citrus production in Argentina and wood in Brazil. He admitted that the firms he was investing in belonged to Ángel Sanchís.
The funds revealed in Switzerland could just be the tip of a money laundering iceberg. The Swiss accounts were in the name of the foundation Sinequanon, created in Panama City in 2004. The first member of this foundation was the firm Impala Ltd, a company created in Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, in 2001. The Spanish authorities have been wanting to investigate Impala for some time but have been refused cooperation from the Bermuda authorities.
In 2005 a joint account was opened in the Swiss bank Dresdner in the names of Impala and Sinequanon. No fewer than ten people were authorised to use this account: a Canadian woman, a Bahamas citizen, four Britons and four citizens of Bermuda.
Bárcenas, who has told the press that he will only make statements in court, replied “Of course!” when asked on Tuesday if he was innocent.
PP slush fund
Bárcenas accused of handing out salary top-ups
The revelation of the millions of euros Bárcenas had in Swiss bank accounts has come hand in hand this week with accusations that the former PP treasurer handed out undeclared cash bonuses to party officials.
While the current PP executive denies all knowledge of any envelopes passing under the table, Jorge Verstrynge, secretary general of the AP (predecessor of the PP) in the eighties, stated earlier this week that the party operated a slush fund in the years when Francisco Álvarez Cascos, Ángel Acebes and Javier Arenas were second in command.
Speaking on Saturday at a PP convention in Almeria, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pointed out that Bárcenas no longer formed part of the PP and highlighted the integrity and dedication of the three most recent PP secretary generals, Ángel Acebes, Javier Arenas and Dolores de Cospedal, who currently holds the post.
“I can only say that if at any time I have knowledge of irregularities or improper conduct that affect members of our party, I will act with a firm hand,” said the party leader.
On Monday Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced a double strategy to safeguard the integrity of his party. On one hand there will be an internal enquiry under the leadership of the current party treasurer, Carmen Navarro, the results of which will be analysed by external consultants. Then Rajoy announced legal action against any individual or means of communication that calls into question the honour of the party. Nevertheless, despite ordering an enquiry, Rajoy denied any irregularity in the party’s accounts.
Party secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal said that the PP had never had a bank account outside Spain nor had ever ordered anyone else to have one.