The first verdict in the Gürtel corruption case, centred on Spain's Popular Party (PP), set off a political earthquake that ended up claiming Mariano Rajoy's scalp. But that was just the beginning. This Monday, the so-called Bárcenas papers trial has opened before the National Audience court in Madrid. And it has been preceded by the dropping of a bombshell: the confession of Luis Bárcenas, the main defendant. The former treasurer of Spain's main party of the right has admitted that for three decades, the party used an illegal financing system, of a structural nature, which allowed it to enter elections supercharged with funds and to distribute envelopes with bonuses to the main leaders of the party (including to one "M. Rajoy"). The former party presidents and Spanish prime ministers, José Maria Aznar and Mariano Rajoy, would have been fully aware of all this. Both will appear in the courtroom, but as witnesses. On the other hand, the PP as an organization will again be in the dock. These are the key points to a trial which may have further serious consequences for the party. And those effects are likely to start with the Catalan elections on February 14th, in which the party aspired to improve its results and avoid being overtaking by far-right Vox. The Bárcenas "fan" is likely to ensure that evidence of systematized corruption covers many parts of the party.
What is the alleged crime?
The specific focus of this trial is the payment of the building refurbishing of a part of the headquarters of the Popular Party, at Calle Genoa, 13 in Madrid, which was allegedly funded using 900,000 euros of undeclared money from the party's so-called Caja B, its secret unofficial accounts, via which irregular income for large companies entered and from which bonuses were paid to senior figures in the party. This parallel accounting system was maintained for at least two decades. The trial will also seek to clarify whether the PP committed a tax offence by failing to declare the allegedly illegal donations of businesspeople and whether Luis Bárcenas, then treasurer of the party, creamed off some of that money himself. The trial is expected to last until May.
Who is accused?
Luis Bárcenas is the main defendant. Having already been sentenced to 29 years' imprisonment in the first Gürtel trial, he now faces a possible five further years for the crimes of misappropriation of funds, tax offences and forgery. He will be accompanied in the dock by former PP manager Cristóbal Páez and three officials from the construction company that carried out the works in the Calle Genoa building. The PP as an organization also faces another accusation as a subsidiary civil party responsible for the crimes investigated. On the other hand, key people will not sit in the dock, but on the witness bench include: former PMs José María Aznar and Mariano Rajoy; the party's former general secretaries María Dolores de Cospedal, Javier Arenas, Francisco Álvarez Cascos and Ángel Acebes, and the former speaker of the Spanish senate Pío García Escudero, among others. They are not accused, but Bárcenas will predictably make statements implicating them.
What is Bárcenas accusing the party of?
In last week's major development, the PP ex-treasurer sent a letter of confession to anti-corruption prosecutors, recounting how Spain's major party of the right financed itself illegally for almost three decades, between 1982 and 2009. It did so through donations from companies - which exceeded the legal limits stated in the Law of Political Parties, and some of which were given in return for favours: the granting of succulent public contracts. And in Bárcenas's statement he specifically mentioned former prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who knew everything: "Mariano Rajoy was fully aware of all these actions, to the point that, in early 2009, we had a meeting in his office, in which I showed him the papers of the Caja B and he told me that I could continue to keep all this compromising documentation, which he ended up personally destroying in the paper shredder, not knowing that I had made a copy of it, much of which was later removed from my wife 's studio when it was broken into."
What does the PP say?
Initially, when the case of Bárcenas's papers exploded in the pages of the newspaper El País, the Popular Party flatly denied everything. Although, in his unpredictable oratory, then-PM Mariano Rajoy left one of his immortal phrases for the ages: "Everything that appears there [in the Bárcenas papers] is untrue... except for a few things already published in the media". In fact, some PP members admitted the existence of envelopes containing commissions. The current generation of the PP, however, has changed its strategy. Pablo Casado's leadership has gone from saying that it is false to saying that it is part of the past and that the party is now clean. However, many of those who appear in the Bárcenas papers and those who were part of the hierarchy at Calle Genoa, 13 at that time are today still on the front lines of the party. In the last few hours, Bárcenas has also stated, in an interview with El Mundo, that he "negotiated to bury the hatchet" with the current management. Casado's entourage flatly denies it because he "doesn't talk to criminals."
Will the trial give the final word?
No. The second period of the Gürtel case, focusing on 2006-2009, is also expected to go to trial in September this year. To this must be added Operation Kitchen, which is already being investigated by the National Audience and by a parliamentary inquiry in the Congress of Deputies. In the words of the investigating judge of the National Audience, "senior organs and directors of the General Administration of the State" created a "parapolice operation" that acted, outside the law, "at least between 2013 and 2015". Its aim was to obtain "compromising documentary material from senior leaders" that was in the hands of Bárcenas and thus neutralize political threats to Mariano Rajoy's government. A crime to cover up other crimes.