The 'number 3' of the governing Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) is indicted for influence peddling

The Supreme Court of Catalonia (TSJC) has indicted Oriol Pujol, who is the ‘number three’ of the CiU – who run the Catalan Government – over a case of influence peddling regarding an irregular public tender for technical vehicle inspection garages. After his indictment was announced, Pujol “delegated” his party and parliamentary roles as Secretary General of CDC – the Liberal and largest force within the two-party coalition CiU – and as Chairman of the CiU group in the Catalan Parliament. However, Pujol explained that he would not resign as an MP, as it would be “out of proportion”. The Catalan politician insisted that he was innocent and he hoped justice would act quickly. The opposition has displayed a divided reaction: some parties have left it to the CiU to decide whether Pujol’s decision was enough while others heavily criticised him continuing as an MP.


March 19, 2013 10:57 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Catalonia (TSJC) announced the indictment of Oriol Pujol Ferrusola, who is the ‘number three’ of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), which runs the Catalan Government. The TSJC considered there to be “rational indications” to believe that Pujol could have allegedly “used his political weight” in an influence peddling case regarding the irregular public tender for the allocation of licenses to technical vehicle inspection garages in Catalonia “with the objective of obtaining an economic profit”. After his indictment was made public, Pujol held a press conference and announced that he was “delegating” his party and parliamentary roles as Secretary General of the CDC – the Liberal and largest force within the two-party coalition CiU – and as Chairman of the CiU group in the Catalan Parliament. However, he explained that he would not resign as an MP, as it would be “out of proportion” because being “indicted is not synonymous with being guilty” and he insisted he is innocent. According to him, quitting the Parliament would be an “irreversible” decision, as he would not be able to retake his seat once it has been proved he is innocent. The CiU leadership, including the President of the Catalan Government and party leader, Artur Mas, approved Pujol’s decision. In addition, Pujol – who is the son of the former President of the Catalan Government and historical leader of Catalan nationalism Jordi Pujol – emphasised that he is temporarily stepping down from frontline politics because he does not want to hurt Catalonia’s self-determination process and the people’s perception of politics. He stated that he was not “hiding behind the flag”. However, he acknowledged that Spanish nationalism is holding “a dirty war” against the Catalan self-determination process and its main actors, but he refused to link these attacks to his personal case. The opposition parties displayed a divided reaction on Pujol’s indictment and the decision to “delegate” his main functions but continue to be an MP. Some parties have respected the decision and have left it to the CiU to decide whether abandoning all his leadership positions apart from continuing as a regular MP was enough. However, other have demanded Pujol resigns from absolutely all positions of public office and have also criticised that he was “delegating” his responsibilities but not “resigning”.

The indictment of Oriol Pujol is a political earthquake in Catalonia because he is one of the main leaders of the governing party and the political force leading the Catalan self-determination process. However, the news was somewhat expected since the public prosecutor asked for it in early February. Furthermore, during the last year, Oriol Pujol’s name has appeared in the press related to different corruption scandals, which are currently under investigation although no official accusations have been filed. The indictment announced on Tuesday does not mean that Pujol is guilty, or that a trial against him will be held. The indictment means the judge investigating the case believes that there are substantial indications suggesting Pujol might have committed a felony and has therefore asked him to testify in the presence of a lawyer. Later on, the judge will decide whether he will formally accuse Pujol of influence peddling or not.

The influence peddling suspicions

The current investigation derives from the case known as ‘Campeón’, whose centre of gravity is in Galicia. The name of the former Spanish Transport Minister and ‘number 2’ of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), José Blanco, is related to the ‘Campeón’ case and is currently under investigation by the justice. The Catalan branch of the case appeared in the press a year ago when five notorious people were arrested, two politicians and three businessmen: the ‘number two’ of Barcelona’s Provincial Council, Josep Tous; the Catalan Government’s Deputy Director of Industrial Safety, Isidre Maselles; the former General Director of Menta ITV, Ricard Puignou; the former CEO of Applus, Sergi Pastor; and Sergi Alsina, a partner in Alta Partners.

The TSJC describes a “series of actions” in which Oriol Pujol allegedly would have participated. According to the court’s indictment released on Tuesday, Pujol would have influenced the Catalan Government’s Deputy Minister for Business and Employment to appoint Josep Tous as mediator in the conflict of the technical vehicle inspection garages, “while Tous was also working in the service and defending particular interests” of the two other indicted businessmen, Ricard Puignou and Sergi Alsina. In addition, the court suspects that Pujol would have managed to make Isidre Masalles be appointed as the Catalan Government’s Deputy Director for Industrial Safety, “who was one of the administrative authorities who had to decide on the resolution of the technical vehicle inspection garages licenses following the plan proposed by Tous”. On top of this, the court stated that Pujol might have “cooperated” with Alsina, Puignou and Tous in having approved the new territorial plan of technical vehicle inspection garages, which was being designed by Tous. The plan “was to significantly increase the number of garages in order to benefit all the participants” and it denied a previously-allocated license to another company. Finally, the court also suspects that Pujol would have participated in creating a company to benefit from the garage network. “Following Tous’ plan”, the new company would have allocated several packs of licenses, with “the support” of Pujol, Alsina and Puignou. Pujol fully denies all these suspicions.

The Catalan Government respects Pujol’s decision

The political reactions have been considerable. The Spokesperson of the Catalan Government, also a member of the CiU, Francesc Homs, defended Pujol’s “presumption of innocence”. Homs asked the press and the rest of the parties to “not act as in Inquisition times”, when people “were already presented as guilty without allowing them the possibility to defend themselves”. Homs stated that the Catalan Government respects Pujol’s decision and, “at a personal level”, he also wanted to express his “support and trust”.

Some parties understand Pujol’s decision…

The Secretary General of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), Marta Rovira, celebrated the fact that Pujol reacted “quickly” after finding out about the TSJC’s decision.  According to Rovira, stepping down from his party and parliamentary roles, “is much more than what other politicians and parties have done in similar situations”. Rovira refused to ask Pujol to resign as MP as well but she insisted that, if he were a member of the ERC, Pujol would have been asked to resign from all the internal and also all public positions.

The Parliamentary Spokesperson for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), Maurici Lucema, asked people to respect Pujol’s “presumption of innocence” because the PSC would like this principle to be respected in all cases, including his former ‘number three’, Daniel Fernández, indicted last Friday also for influence peddling. Lucema refused to criticise Pujol’s decision and asked the justice to act quickly.

… while other parties criticised it

However, the rest of the opposition parties have shown less sympathy and have criticised Pujol’s decision. The Parliamentary Spokesperson for the Catalan branch of the People’s Party (PP), Enric Millo, asked Pujol “to truly resign” and quit his seat in Parliament. Millo criticised Pujol for having “delegated” his responsibilities and stated that this is a “half-resignation” and not “a true one”. Millo also asked the CiU leader and President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, why is he allowing this to happen.

The Spokesperson of the ICV-EUiA, Dolors Camats, stated that “it is not compatible” that Pujol is keeping his MP status while he has been indicted by the TSJC. Camats underlined that “this incompatibility” “is not a matter of justice”, because “he has not been declared guilty of anything”, but because of “his position” and “his political responsibility”. Camats emphasised that Catalan citizens “do not deserve”  four MPs already being indicted for corruption in the Catalan Parliament, three from the CiU and one from the PSC.

The Spokesperson for the anti-Catalan nationalism and populist party Ciutadans (C’s), Jordi Cañas, “demanded” that Pujol quit the Parliament. Cañas joked about “delegating” his responsibility, as C’s considered it not to be a resignation but avoiding his duties. “In England a minister resigns because of a traffic fine and here there is no resignation for being indicted for influence peddling”, he underlined. In addition, C’s stated that they will not sign any anti-corruption agreement with the CiU and the Catalan Government while people indicted for corruption are sitting in the Parliament.

The radical left-wing and independence party CUP asked Pujol and the rest of the MPs indicted for corruption to fully resign from public office and quit the Catalan Parliament. CUP’s MP, Quim Arrufat, asked Pujol to resign as an MP and stop receiving a public salary while his implication in the technical vehicle inspection garages scandal is still to be clarified.