The Spanish National Court has sentenced the former treasurer of the ruling party in Spain, Luis Barcenas, to 33 years in prison for corruption in a legal case that has rocked the Spanish political system.
The former treasurer of the Popular Party, which had amassed tens of millions of euros in accounts in Switzerland, was the star of the trial in the “Gurtel” case, the most compromising corruption scandal to have embroiled the conservative party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The court followed the recommendation of the prosecutor’s office to impose immediate imprisonment on Mr Barcenas, citing a high risk of flight after being sentenced to 33 years in prison and a fine of 44 million euros.
Two other former members of the party were sent to jail on Monday before appealing the verdict: the former mayor of the city of Majadahonda in the suburbs of Madrid, Guillermo Ortega, sentenced to 38 years in prison, and one former head of the Madrid region, Alberto López Viejo, who received 31 years of detention.
In total, 29 people – including many executives and elected officials of the PP – were sentenced to a total of 351 years in prison, for corruption, embezzlement or money laundering.
The court concluded that between the Popular Party had created “a genuine and effective system of institutional corruption through mechanisms of manipulation of public markets”.
The defendants were found guilty of rigging public markets to inflate prices that later allowed for the distribution of commissions, part of which was used to supply a slush fund used by the PP to illegally finance the party’s political activities and to pay some party cadres. These payments were recorded in the Barcénas records.
On one of these pages Mr Rajoy’s name appears; however, the prime minister has denied any knowledge of the existence of the fund, despite being party chairman for 14 years, and says he never received a payment from it. But other people whose names appear in the famous notebooks admitted to having received the amounts indicated. And the main investigator of the case, stated last November before the Congress of Deputies, that Rajoy received money from the black fund.
Despite this, the Spanish Prime Minister has not been prosecuted.
Nearly 900 elected officials and leaders of the Partido Popular are being prosecuted, some of whom are already in prison. According to a joint report by several universities and the National Commission of the markets and competition dating from December 2016, corruption costs the Spanish economy 87 billion euros a year.
The cost of corruption on the public markets alone, most of which is related to Mariano Rajoy’s party, is estimated at 48 billion euros, which represents 4.5% of the Spanish gross domestic product (GDP).
Monday’s verdict led the Socialist opposition party to file a motion of censure against the government which is to be debated on Thursday and Friday.