Day in court for son of Catalonia’s ‘ruling family’

Oriol Pujol, centre, the son of former Catalonia president Jordi arrives in court in Barcelona. Picture: Getty
Oriol Pujol, centre, the son of former Catalonia president Jordi arrives in court in Barcelona. Picture: Getty
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The politician son of the former president of Catalonia appeared in court this week charged with ­corruption.

Oriol Pujol, 46, whose father Jordi, 82, ruled the north-eastern region of Spain from 1980-2003, faced a preliminary hearing on charges of peddling influence, which he denies.

However, when he arrived for his day in court in Barcelona, a crowd gathered outside and chanted “Chorizo! Chorizo!” – a slang term for thief.

Until a few weeks ago, Oriol Pujol was the secretary-general of the ruling CDC (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia party), scion of a family once considered as untouchable as royalty.

But now two of Jordi Pujol’s sons face corruption charges, while a police report, which he condemns as both false and politically motivated, claims he himself, as well as current Catalan president Artur Mas, have millions stored in Swiss bank accounts.

The case against Oriol partly rests on telephone recordings which suggest he was involved in a racket selling valuable MoT testing licences to garages. In court he insisted: “I only ­intervened in the case of the MoT ­licences for the good of the country.”

Meanwhile, his elder brother, also called Jordi, faces charges of laundering €32 million (£27m) in 13 countries. His former girlfriend testified that she had helped him ship bags of €500 notes across the border into Andorra, the Pyrenean tax haven.

When in 1984 Jordi Pujol ­senior was investigated for ­siphoning off funds from the Banca Catalana, of which he was then a director, he dismissed the charges as a Madrid-inspired campaign to discredit the Catalan nation. Last week president Mas used almost the same words when he condemned the cases against Mr Pujol’s sons as politically motivated.

This time around, however, it may not wash with the public. The recession is bringing to light the extent of corruption throughout the Spanish state, Catalonia included. In March, two leading members of the Unió half of the ruling CiU coalition were jailed for diverting €388,000 of EU funds destined for a youth employment scheme into party coffers. A month earlier the CiU mayor of resort town, Lloret de Mar, was charged with money laundering and links with the Russian mafia.

That still leaves the big one, the so-called “Palau case”. Felix Millet, director of the Palau de la Mùsica, a Catalan institution, has admitted stealing more than €30m from the concert hall over a period of years. It also appears that Millet acted as an intermediary for the CDC party, which it is alleged awarded infrastructure contracts in exchange for sweeteners that went into party funds.

The party denies this, but last July a judge felt there was sufficient evidence of “opaque cash payments” to order the party to pay €3.2m to the court pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Catalonia staggers on with only a semblance of government, unable to agree a budget to meet the deficit target imposed, ultimately, by Brussels. Mr Mas is in a loose coalition with Esquerra Republicana and he needs Esquerra to approve a budget, including €3bn in public spending cuts. Oriol Junqueras, the Esquerra leader, said recently that “if anyone thinks I’m going to approve €3bn in spending cuts they must be mad”.

As for the vote on independence, pencilled in for September 2014, it is bogged down in a sterile dispute over the constitutionality of holding a referendum. Mr Mas, never more than a lukewarm secessionist, dodges the issue by saying there is no point in having a referendum that isn’t backed by Madrid, which is not very unlikely. The more fervent nationalists are for going ahead and to hell with Madrid.

But Mr Mas remains confident in public: “Lots of things are being said but the fact is that the national transition is being handled well.”