Catalan statesman Pujol to testify in court in tax probe

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 16, 2014 12:57 PM

MADRID (Reuters) - The former president of Catalonia, who became a figurehead for the region and its independence drive during 23 years in power, is to testify in court alongside some of his family members after admitting to keeping a fortune outside Spain.

Jordi Pujol, along with his wife and three of his children, has been called to give evidence in January as a formal suspect in an tax fraud and money laundering investigation, the Catalan Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

Pujol, 84, admitted in July this year he had stashed undeclared money outside Spain for over three decades, which he said he had inherited from his father. He has not said how much was hidden from tax authorities, but Spanish media have said it could amount to hundreds of millions of euros.

The scandal sent shockwaves through Spain and particularly Catalonia at a time when the current regional government has been pushing to hold a referendum on independence, mirroring one held in Scotland which ultimately voted to stay in Britain.

Supporters of Catalan secession had argued that the region was spared corruption dogging the rest of Spain, where scandals have even engulfed bankers, politicians and members of the royal family.

Pujol founded Convergencia i Unio (CiU), the party now in power in the wealthy northeastern region under President Artur Mas.

Catalonia went ahead with a symbolic secession vote on Nov. 9, despite strong opposition from the central Spanish government, and regional politicians have since been locking horns over whether to hold early elections in the region.

Pujol said in July he had returned his money to Spain under a tax amnesty passed by the Spanish government in 2012.

But prosecutors have been investigating the former premier's affairs and asked Switzerland and Andorra for banking details for nine members of his family.

(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz, Writing by Sarah White; editing by Ralph Boulton)