Spanish police have this afternoon arrested two elected Catalan Socialist (PSC) members of the municipal council of Cornellà de Llobregat on new accusations of corruption, related to a larger corruption case involving municipalities and sports administration bodies in cities of the Llobregat valley, bordering Barcelona city on the south-west. In the original case in this investigation, opened in 2020 and centred on the Sports Council of L'Hospitalet (CELH), around a dozen people are being investigated, including the mayor of L'Hospitalet del Llobregat, and current president of the Barcelona Provincial Council, the Socialist politician Núria Marín. In today's new case, the Cornellà council members arrested are a former city councillor responsible for sports, along with the deputy mayor responsible for finances, Sergio Fernández Mesa. Fraud specialists from the Spanish Police searched municipal offices as well as the headquarters of another Sports Council, that of the larger Baix Llobregat county (CEBLLOB), on the orders of the Cornellà investigating judge. The alleged crimes: embezzlement of public funds, abuse of authority and fraud in public administration. In addition to the two elected officials, nine other employees in the council administration, all connected to the sports area, were arrested today. Thus, eleven people were detained, four of whom were to appear before the judge, with the others due to be charged and released, according to the Catalan High Court's press office.
Today's move was aimed at uncovering a supposed "false" service contract between the Cornellà city council and the CELH Sports Council, through which the city council paid out funds for the services of sporting referees for a higher amount than what they actually received, with the supposition that some of this money may have been diverted, according to fraud squad sources. The contract covered three years of service, from 2018 to 2020, and was for a total of 89,222 euros. The Cornellà judge opened the investigation for alleged embezzlement and abuse of authority, after documents found in the 2020 records of the CELH, which is a private entity that receives public funds, from both municipal bodies and the Catalan government. Also affecting this case, a credit line of 25,000 euros and a bank guarantee for 3,680 euros were discovered, which were requested from the Sports Council board of directors in order to provide the service to Cornella.
An alleged 10% cut
Specifically, there is evidence that the CELH officials already under investigation agreed to the Cornellà city council's referee contracting proposal. The CEBLLOB Sports Council manages the league that this city council holds in its local sports centres. The current CEBLLOB president and former head of sports in Cornellà, Salvador Valls, is alleged to have participated in this contract, according to sources close to the investigation.
In the l'Hospitalet case, the main defendants are the current deputy mayor responsible for Urban Planning and PSC official, Cristian Alcázar Esteban, and Eduard Galí, director of the CELH. Both are being investigated for allegedly presenting false minutes of the Sports Council board before a notary.
The fraud squad now specifies that with this document, Alcázar gave himself power to request a credit line of 25,000 euros, which he managed together with Horacio Álvarez, then secretary of the CELH. This was for the provision of the referees service, a contract with the Cornellà city council which Galí was responsible for formalising. It is thought that under the arrangement, the Cornellà local body paid an excessive amount for the referees wages to the CELH, which retained a 10% profit, "not included in the contract", according to the police.
The Cornellà city council issued a statement this afternoon, assuring that it maintains "complete calm" over today's judicial action, because it considers that "the aforementioned contracts were processed and approved in accordance with the established legal procedure". It details that at a quarter to nine in the morning fraud squad officers requested documentation related to the hiring of the sports referee service from the CELH, searching administrative files and computer devices in the department. The Cornellà council says that contracting files under investigation were already handed over in October 2020 by court order, within the framework of this same case.
The council adds that "it is fully convinced of the honesty of the people linked to the Cornellà city council investigated in this case and is confident that the proceedings will confirm their innocence." And it backs the integrity and reputation of the institution and its staff, once again reaffirming its total willingness to cooperate with the judicial investigation for a rapid clarification of the situation."
Last year, L'Hospitalet mayor Nuría Marín denied any knowledge of these irregularities in her city's Sports Council, the CELH.