Friday, September 16, 2016

Matas And The Scandals That Won't Go Away

So, Jaume Matas may escape a further term in prison if he spills the beans. He would know that he potentially faces a far longer stretch than the nine months he spent in Segovia prison for peddling influence in arranging illegal payments to a journalistic cheerleader. The Son Espases Hospital affair eclipses even the Palma Arena case in terms of the money that was involved in the project. The cost of the contract is almost incidental, however. The links to alleged illegal funding of the Partido Popular are most certainly not.

Reaction from politicians with parties other than the PP (from which little or nothing is being heard) ranges from the phlegmatic to the apoplectic. While all this reaction suggests that Matas shouldn't avoid doing time, there is an acceptance that Matas holds a key - possibly the key - to revealing the secrets of this funding. These politicians won't know exactly what Matas knows. They will be capable of hazarding shrewd guesses, but the knowledge resides with the justice system and the anti-corruption prosecution service in particular.

While Matas was in prison, he appeared by videoconference link at a hearing into Son Espases. This was the bizarre occasion when his head was bandaged. He apparently had an ear infirmity and was therefore unable to hear the questions being put to him. Before he left prison, he was visited by the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Pedro Horrach. It was said at the time that he exercised his right not to say anything. It now appears that things were rather different and that Matas was all ears. The origin of a deal to spill the beans was during that meeting with Horrach.

Why is Son Espases so important, and important enough for the national anti-corruption prosecution service to back the regional service and so Horrach's deal? It has everything to do with funding of the PP and with work on a remodelling of its headquarters building in the calle Génova in Madrid. The allegation is that the award of the contract for the construction of Son Espases was rigged in favour of the company OHL, the president of which is Juan Miguel Villar Mir, a long-ago minister of finance (in the period immediately after Franco's death) and the recipient of a marquis title from the former king in 2011.

The charge is that it was Matas who rigged the award. In the end, OHL didn't get the contract. This was after suspicions about the contract appeared in the press. Matas intervened and the award ultimately went to the rival consortium. But Matas, it is said, didn't act independently. He was under instruction from the PP nationally.

A famous envelope containing instructions that the tender board was to follow has been referred to often during investigations. The then health minister, Aina Castillo, has testified that she was given this envelope - without knowing its contents - to be passed on. Matas was the one who gave her the envelope, but he - the allegation is - was given it by the formal national treasurer of the PP, Alvaro Lapuerta. Matas, it is understood, is prepared to state this in court.

OHL and Villar Mir come into the story because Luis Barcenas, another former treasurer, has testified that Villar Mir was a major funder of the PP. He gave the party a significant sum - 300,000 euros - for its 2011 election campaign, but he has also come under investigation for payments in cash amounting to two million euros. An implication is that he paid for work at the headquarters.

Barcenas is also crucial to this whole affair. The infamous "B" accounts which he supposedly operated - undeclared income and payments - have been the subject of investigation by the national high court. A judge, Pablo Ruz, concluded eighteen months ago that the PP had used this "B" system between 1990 and 2008. Both Barcenas and Lapuerta were cited by the judge. Moreover, the judge said that according to Barcenas's accounts, Villar Mir had delivered over half a million euros between 2004 and 2008.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Matas avoiding prison, the revelation that he might do comes at a bad time for the PP. While Matas was involved in corruption from several years go - it is now nine years since his second and final period as Balearic president ended - there are more up-to-date scandals surrounding the party, not least in Valencia, where Rita Barberá, the former mayor of Valencia, is facing allegations of money laundering that relate to the time just before the elections in spring 2015.

The additional backdrop of course is the ongoing uncertainty with the national government. A reason for this uncertainty has been the rise of Podemos and Ciudadanos, both of them taking firm aim against corruption. The PP's moral authority for government takes a constant battering. Matas, and what he might have to say, diminishes that authority ever more.

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