The Catalan President denies playing any part in the ‘Palau’ corruption case before a parliamentary committee
Artur Mas, the President of the Catalan Government, challenged the opposition parties to present a vote of no-confidence if they want him to step down. Mas, who leads the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) and the Liberal party CDC, emphasised that CDC has been investigated “until the last millimetre” and the judge has not indicted any party leader or member of the Catalan Executive. He explained that the party’s finance management team and its political leadership have been separated since the late 1990s. The Catalan President insisted he believes in the word given by the party treasurer, who has been indicted by the judge. However, he guaranteed that, if the trial proves that CDC received any illegal money, the party “will return up to the last cent” and will take full responsibility for it. The opposition considered the explanations to be insufficient and demanded resignations if the corruption case is finally proven.
Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, addressed on Wednesday to the Catalan Parliament’s Committee for Institutional Affairs in order to provide explanations about the so-called ‘Palau’ corruption case and answer the questions of the MPs. Mas, who leads Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) – the Liberal force within the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist two-party coalition (CiU), denied any illegal funding of CDC, to the extent of his knowledge. The Catalan President challenged the opposition parties to present a vote of no-confidence if they want him to step down because of the so-called ‘Palau’ case, since he believes he has not done anything wrong. He emphasised that CDC has been investigated “until the last millimetre” and the judge has not indicted any party leader or member of the Catalan Government. He explained that the party’s finance management team and its political leadership have been separated since the late 1990s and, therefore, neither he nor any political leader was managing any money. The Catalan President insisted he believes in the word given by the party treasurer, who has been indicted by the judge. However, he guaranteed that if the trial proves that CDC received illegal money, the party “will return up to the last cent” and will take full responsibility for it. Mas also asked the opposition to respect the innocent until proven guilty principle and wait for the trial results. The opposition considered the explanations to be insufficient and asked for more information about CDC’s internal investigations regarding the ‘Palau’ case. Furthermore, they asked Mas to promise he will resign and that all the money will be returned if the corruption case is finally proven. The Catalan President refused to make such a promise, since he said he is not involved in the case whatsoever.
Illegal money in exchange for public work contracts through donations to the Palau de la Música
The public prosecutor office and the judge believe there may be evidence indicating that CDC would have earned between €5.1 million and €6.6 million from the construction company Ferrovial in exchange for the allocation of public work contracts. According to the judicial four-year investigation, Ferrovial would have allegedly donated the money to the Palau de la Música foundation – which manages the famous Barcelona concert hall – and the cultural institution managers would have deviated this money to their own pockets and to the CDC, by also involving the CatDem think tank (CDC’s political foundation). In addition to CDC’s former treasurer and a CiU MP, the judge also indicted two Ferrovial executives and four people involved in the management of the Palau de la Música Foundation including the institution’s President, Fèlix Millet, and his deputy, Jordi Montull. The party has totally denied the accusations and stated to be waiting for the trial to clarify the situation. A few weeks ago the opposition parties demanded the Catalan President and CDC leader to address the Catalan Parliament and give explanations on the issue. Mas’ statement was scheduled for the 31st of July.
The explanation of the Catalan President and CDC leader before the Parliament
There was a great expectation in the Catalan Parliament on Wednesday morning to listen to Artur Mas’ explanation regarding the Palau case. The room where the Parliamentary Committee for Institutional Affairs is located was full to capacity with MPs and a large number of journalists and photographers. In his initial statement, the Catalan President wanted to commit in front of the Parliament that his party “will return up to the last cent” if the trial concludes that CDC received illegal money. However, he insisted he is “convinced” the party had not obtained funds in an illegal way and that the trial’s sentence will conclude the same. Mas explained he believes in the word given by the former managers of CDC finances. However, he also stated that if the judge does eventually prove that CDC was involved in the CDC corruption case and earned illegal money, “as we have always done, we will take responsibility for it, and this will not be an exception”, he said.
In any case, Mas wanted to deny any sort of special or privileged treatment to Ferrovial, which is under suspicion to have paid CDC though several donations to the Palau de la Música in exchange for the allocation of public work contracts, according to the judicial investigation. Mas asked the opposition parties to review “if the public works where a hypothetical commission percentage was charged will have their allocation being challenged”. “The works were correctly allocated” he stressed. “Therefore, where is the privileged treatment? Because privileged treatment can only exist if the work is allocated to somebody with a weaker offer, but if it is allocated to the one offering the best in the public tender there is no special treatment”, the Catalan President insisted. Mas also stated that neither the judge, the Public Prosecutor Office or the previous Catalan Government (run by a Left-Wing three-party coalition), which had “organised a macro-audit”, “found anything” wrong, he said. “Because there was nothing wrong” he added.
Furthermore, he reminded that the party has already given all sorts of explanations regarding this case. Mas said that the party and the Catalan Government have provided “all the explanations” in press conferences or in parliamentary control plenary sessions on several occasions. On top of this, he reminded the Catalan Parliament had already run a parliamentary investigation committee on the Palau case and that, on that occasion, his appearance was vetoed by some political parties and “not by the CiU [Mas’ party]”, he stated. In addition, he explained that the former CDC treasurer, Daniel Osàcar – who is indicted by the judge – stepped down from his party position and that the party leadership “accepted” Osàcar’s resignation. The Catalan President also insisted that he had given the order to return all the money that the party had received “through legal agreements” from the Palau de la Música. “Decisions are taken and explanations are provided”, he concluded. However, he also asked the opposition to respect the “innocent until proved guilty principle” and wait for the trial’s results.
The opposition considered the explanations to be insufficient and asked Mas to resign if the case is proven
The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), which is the second largest Party in the Catalan Parliament and has a parliamentary stability agreement with the governing CiU, considered that Mas’ explanations before the Parliament was “a Republican duty” following the final reports of the judge and the Public Prosecutor Office. The ERC’s Secretary General, Marta Rovira, regretted that Mas “only” based his defence in the trust he has on the party’s former finance managers. Rovira asked the Catalan President what had CDC done to internally investigate the case. She also asked Mas to go beyond the restitution of the money if the corruption case is finally proven and to adopt political measures.
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) considered that Mas’ arguments were “poor and puerile”. The PSC Spokesperson, Maurici Lucena, reminded that it was the first time that a Catalan President was talking before the Catalan Parliament regarding a corruption case, and he linked it to the address that the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will provide on Thursday regarding the so-called Bárcenas case. “These are the two most important cases of illegal funding of [political] parties”, stated Lucena. “You, CDC and Catalonia have a very important problem”, he said to Mas, insisting that Catalan citizens would have paid 4% more for the public work contracts. The judge wrote in his investigation report he believed that Ferrovial was paying 4% of the public work’s cost to the Palau de la Música and that this money was ending up in the pockets of the Palau de la Música managers and CDC. Finally, Lucena asked Mas “to swear on his honour” if CiU had won the 2010 and the 2012 Catalan elections “without dirty money”. If the corruption case were to be proven, the PSC would ask Mas to resign as President of the Catalan Government because he “missed something” regarding CDC’s financial management.
The conservative People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government and is involved in the Bárcenas case – emphasised that “this is the most important institutional corruption case in Catalonia”. The PP Spokesperson, Enric Millo, asked Mas to detail what internal investigations were carried out within the CDC and what explanations were given by the party’s financial managers. He asked Mas to totally clarify the situation and to guarantee he will resign if the accusations are finally proven.
The Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) stated that Mas’ explanations were “excuses”. The ICV Co-President, Joan Herrera, stated that the Palau and the Bárcenas corruption cases show “a systemic crisis” of the political party system. Herrera said he was asking Mas for political responsibilities but not penal ones, although he “had problems believing that the Chairman of CDC did not see that irregular funds were arriving”, particularly considering that the Catalan President is very “meticulous”, he said. ICV-EUiA believed Mas is guilty for not having properly watched the work of CDC’s financial managers and for having chosen them. In addition, Herrera accused the Palau de la Música managers of being “privateers” and “not pirates”, since they were working for CDC.
The anti-Catalan nationalism and populist party Ciutadans (C’s) said that Daniel Osàcar was “the Bárcenas of CDC”. The C’s President, Albert Rivera, listed several corruption cases where CiU members would allegedly be involved. According to him, this list proves that the Palau case is not an isolated case and that there is “an illegal funding system” of the CiU. However, C’s also criticised the PP and the PSC for other corruption cases. Rivera asked Mas “to open a new period” and resign. He accused the Catalan President of acting like “a penal lawyer for white-collar thieves” and losing the opportunity of providing “convincing explanations”. For these reasons, Rivera stated that Mas had “dug his own grave and linked his political future to that of Daniel Osàcar”.
Finally, the radical left-wing and independence party CUP stated that the Palau case is evidence that the political system has a corruption problem. The CUP MP, Quim Arrufat, regretted that Mas had lost “the opportunity” to provide further explanations. Arrufat said that Mas was hiding and that if he truly was unaware of the CDC illegal funding, some other party members must have lied to him, since “it is not believable that Osàcar was the only person knowing about it”. “Nobody controls the treasurer? Is he immune?” asked Arrufat. The CUP also said that the PP could have also been involved in the Palau case, as it has seemed on some occasions during the four-year investigation.
The Catalan President challenged the opposition to carry out a vote of no-confidence
Artur Mas answered the opposition groups and challenged them to force him to resign. “If you believe I have to resign, you have a mechanism”, he said. “Present a vote of no-confidence and win it”, he emphasised. However, he insisted that, at this point of the process, asking for his resignation was “an exaggeration”, since he has not been indicted and neither have been the members of the Catalan Government nor the leaders of the party for the Palau case. For this reason, according to Mas, he cannot assume “further political responsibilities”. Finally, he insisted he “100%” believed the explanations given by the CDC’s financial managers, in whom he fully trusts.