Spain moves to freeze Swiss accounts of ruling party ex-treasurer

Reuters News
Posted: May 31, 2013 12:28 PM
Spain moves to freeze Swiss accounts of ruling party ex-treasurer

MADRID (Reuters) - A judge said on Friday he would ask Swiss authorities to freeze at least nine bank accounts linked to a former treasurer of Spain's ruling People's Party who is charged with bribery, tax evasion and other crimes.

Examining Magistrate Pablo Ruz, of Spain's High Court, also expanded his investigation of alleged corruption in the People's Party, ordering the party to turn over information on expense accounts for top party officials and on the dates that business leaders visited party headquarters.

Ruz is investigating a major corruption scandal that has damaged the credibility of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as Spaniards struggle with a deep recession and 27 percent unemployment.

At the heart of the scandal is former PP treasurer Luis Barcenas, who is accused of running a slush fund out of party headquarters and of being involved in a kickbacks scheme with companies that organized events for the party.

In January, El Pais newspaper published what it said were copies of secret ledgers that Barcenas maintained for years, allegedly showing cash donations from construction magnates which were redistributed to party leaders.

Barcenas, who stepped down as treasurer in 2009, held up to 38 million euros ($50 million) in Swiss bank accounts, according to court documents.

Barcenas has denied any wrongdoing.

Rajoy and other PP leaders have also repeatedly denied any improper accounting at the party.

While polls show Spaniards are increasingly concerned about corruption and disillusioned with politicians, Rajoy is expected to ride out the scandal unless more damaging details emerge. The PP has an absolute majority in Parliament and elections are not due until 2015.

On Friday Ruz said in a judicial writ that he would ask Switzerland to freeze Barcenas-linked accounts in Lombard Odier, BSI and LGT banks. He also asked for accounts held by a Barcenas front man and different front companies to be frozen.

Earlier this week Ruz questioned eight current and former executives from construction firms who all appeared as party donors in the so-called Barcenas papers - as the once-secret ledgers are known - to answer questions behind closed doors.

On Friday he ordered the party to turn over records of every visit to party headquarters of those business leaders, who include Juan Villar Mir, president of Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL), Luis del Rivero, former president of Sacyr Vallehermoso and Jose Maria Mayor Oreja, ex-president of FCC Construction, a subsidiary of FCC.

Anonymous donations to political parties, below a certain value, were not illegal in the period the judge is looking into.

However, donations from companies that had public contracts - as most of the construction firms did - could be illegal.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; editing by Andrew Roche)