Catalunya. The scandals that hurt the quest for independence

di Antonio Doblas Madrid.

Parliament by Noah Easterly

Parliament by Noah Easterly

As the struggle over Catalonia’s right to vote for independence unfolds, former Catalan president Jordi Pujol finds himself mired in a scandal that has shattered his reputation and legacy. Jordi Pujol i Soley was an important figure in Spain’s transition to democracy, and the President of the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government, from 1980 to 2003. Over this period, his party Convergència i Unió dominated Catalan politics, and played an important role in Spanish politics by entering pacts with Felipe González on the left and José María Aznar on the right. Considered one of the key architects of the ‘Spain of the Autonomies’, Mr. Pujol left big shoes to fill for his hand-picked successor and current Generalitat President Artur Mas. In retirement, his standing only grew. Many honors were bestowed upon him, such as the designation of “The Very Honorable”, the keys to the City of Barcelona, the Golden Medal of the Generalitat, and others. A happy, almost idyllic retirement, until one day this summer, everything fell apart.

On July 25th, 2014, the 84-year old former president contacted newspapers to make a strange confession. In 1980, his father Florenci Pujol i Brugat had left an inheritance in Andorra, now worth about 4 Million Euros. Jordi Pujol contritely apologized for never having found ‘the right moment’ to repatriate and pay taxes on those funds. This version of events is a far cry from what is appearing in newspapers and being investigated by courts. An ex-girlfriend of his son Jordi Pujol i Ferrusola, and anonymous entrepreneurs have told reporters that the long-time president and his sons routinely moved large amounts of cash out of Spain. The cash came from bribes. Everyone who landed a public works contract in Catalunya was called to a face-to-face meeting with the President, who demanded three percent of the bill (VAT included, he always clarified). Refusal meant exclusion from future deals. According to an anonymous victim, “The Pujol clan had very long tentacles, with total control of the public sector, and a surprising degree of control of the private sector. If you didn’t go along, you might as well erase Catalunya off the map”. Reports also allege that 4 Million Euros are not even one percent of a vast fortune hidden in Andorra, Switzerland, Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein, and virtually every such ‘haven’ country. It will take years for Spanish courts—which were reluctant to start investigating—to reach a verdict on Mr. Pujol and his sons, especially since he is not providing any documentation, and subpoena power outside of Spain is limited. In the court of public opinion, however, Mr. Pujol has already been convicted beyond reasonable doubt. Most of his honors have been revoked. He has lost his salary as ex-president, been forced to return the keys to the City of Barcelona, stripped of the “Very Honorable” designation, etc. And, needless to say, the Jordi Pujol Foundation for the study of ethics, has dissolved itself.

The current scandal has brought back memories of past chapters in the Pujol history, which had somewhat faded in memory but were never quite forgotten. It was Jordi’s father, Florenci Pujol i Brugat who made the money needed for the family’s rise to prominence. Florenci’s life story would make for a good movie. He was born into a family that owned a factory but lost it when business was disrupted by World War I. Determined to climb back up, but lacking capital or connections, he began his financial career in the 1920s trading junk securities shunned by established brokers at the Borsa de Barcelona. In the Spanish Civil War, he got a job as a driver, away from the front lines. Although we was on the Republican side, he enrolled Jordi in the German—which at the time meant Nazi—School of Barcelona, a decision that Jordi Pujol says he never understood. But the German school allowed Florenci to make connections with the military elite that would run the country after 1939.

In fact, the charming Florenci landed on his feet after the war and made his fortune in the black market that sprung up to bypass the exchange rate controls set up by Franco’s regime. However, as Spain’s foreign exchange reserves dwindled and enforcement efforts intensified, he was caught. In 1959 Florenci’s name appeared in a list of ‘traitor capitalists’, with his partner Tannenbaum and some other names, some quite illustrious. He was forced to pay a fine that was small relative to his wealth, but the real punishment was exclusion from the business world. Florenci then decided to buy a bank, put his son Jordi at the helm, and keep a low profile. His son Jordi quickly grew into the role of leader of what became Banca Catalana. In the 1960s, he established himself as a banker and as a committed Catalanist, being jailed by Franco’s regime for his political activities. The combination of wealth, Catalanist credibility and talent helped him on the way to the Palau de la Generalitat. Banca Catalana ended up going bust in 1984, placing him under investigation. That time, he was acquitted, because according to the judge, “disastrous management of a bank is not a crime”. In the end, Jordi Pujol recovered from the Banca Catalana case. It hurt him, but it did not sink him.

But there is no recovering from this. Mr. Pujol’s enemies have been celebrating the Pujol clan’s political death, and claiming that the scandal weakens the separatists. Indeed, the Catalanist slogan Spain steals from us is now coated in irony. That said, neither Mr. Rajoy’s conservative party nor the Spanish Socialist party are in a position to point fingers and talk about corruption, having been recently tainted by scandals of their own. In the end, it seems that the people clamoring for independence in the streets of Barcelona still prefer Catalan scoundrels over Castilian ones.


Nessun commento

Puoi essere il primo a lasciare un commento su questo articolo !

Lascia un commento

Subscribe without commenting