Friday, February 01, 2013

Ledgergate: The PP and the secret accounts

There are moments when events take a sudden and unexpected twist and which threaten to shake institutions to the extent that they come crashing down. The publication by "El País" of handwritten ledgers showing payments to prominent Partido Popular politicians over several years may just be one such moment. The ledgers, supposedly kept by two former treasurers of the party, one of them Luis Bárcenas, suggest that secret payments were made to the current prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Rodrigo Rato, variously the former head of the IMF, a former minister for finance, the ex-number two to José María Aznar and the one-time president of Bankia. He was cited last year by the Spanish Supreme Court, indicted in connection with the management of Bankia. The ledgers also show payments to the current secretary-general of the PP, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, and payments to someone whose initials are J.M.

Cospedal has rejected any suggestion that these ledgers amount to a set of secret accounts. She maintains that the party's accounts are clean and transparent. Bárcenas, under investigation for alleged illegal payments and kickbacks, has issued a statement making a similar rejection. Both he and the party are considering legal proceedings.

It is not just who was apparently receiving payments, it was also who was making them. There are construction companies, such as FCC, and other businesses, one of them seemingly Mercadona, the retailer's spokespeople having previously denied that donations have ever been made to the PP. There are also individuals linked to the ongoing corruption investigation, "caso Gürtel", to which Bárcenas is well and truly also linked and which opened up the separate investigation into him and the money he had stashed away in a Swiss bank account.

Then there are other types of payments, ones not directly to individuals but for clothing. For example, in 2008 there were 11,020 euros for "suits M.R.".

A point to be made about donations to political parties is that until 2007 anonymous donations could be made, so long as they were declared in tax statements. As such, therefore, payments may not have been illegal. However, there would appear to be a discrepancy between total amounts raised as donations and the amount that was transferred to a bank account for such donations. And it would also appear that payments have been made since 2007, including those to Cospedal who only figures in the ledgers for the first time in 2008.

Donations may, therefore, have been legal, but the fact that they were coming from builders, among others, and were being made during the period of the construction boom has led to hints of impropriety.

But then, the party is denying that donations were passed to party leaders. It is denying the existence of the ledgers. So what are the documents that "El País" has published? The paper is unequivocal in stating that they are authentic.

Rajoy has avoided making any statement, preferring to wait for the results of audits into the party's finances that he has ordered as a consequence of the Bárcenas affair. But if, as the ledgers suggest, he was receiving an annual payment of 25,200 euros over a period of eleven years, he must surely have known about them? If, that is, they were ever made.

In a previous article, I intimated that Bárcenas might know where the bodies were buried. He is apparently angry that he has been more or less hung out to dry and has been let down by the party's leadership. He also, it would seem, knows what nine boxes, said to reveal secrets about the party's finances, contain. He was the one who removed them from the party's headquarters.

There are all sorts of questions that need answering. What conclusion, if any, do we draw from the fact that there appear not to be any "alternative" ledgers since the time that Bárcenas was forced to step down from his post as treasurer in 2009? Where have the documents that "El País" has published come from? Or from whom? Are they false, a hoax? Because if they are real, then the ledgers are more than a simple embarrassment. The Bárcenas affair has threatened to explode, and it may now have done, and with the explosion could come an implosion. As a correspondent of mine has remarked about the ledgers: "these are dynamite".

Any comments to please.

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