Financial Times

Last updated: July 27, 2014 10:03 pm

Funds scandal hits Catalan independence campaign

By Tobias Buck in Madrid

Former President of Catalonia Jordi Pujol©AFP

Former President of Catalonia Jordi Pujol

Catalonia’s independence campaign has suffered a setback after a leading figure of Catalan nationalism admitted keeping undeclared funds outside Spain.

Jordi Pujol, 84, was president of Catalonia for 23 years, and is the founder of Convergéncia Democrática de Catalunya, the centre-right nationalist party that has dominated regional politics for decades. Now led by Artur Mas, the current Catalan president, the party has moved from a moderate nationalist stance to outright support for an independent state.

Mr Pujol’s financial revelations, made late on Friday, confirmed earlier reports in Spain’s El Mundo daily. His statement sent shockwaves through the political scene in Catalonia, amid intense speculation that the news will serve as a damaging distraction for the independence campaign. It is also likely to resonate in the rest of Spain, where many voters voice profound dissatisfaction with the political class after corruption scandals.

The admission came just days before a keenly awaited meeting between Mr Mas and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister. Mr Mas and his government want to hold a referendum on independence in November – but face fierce resistance from the Rajoy government. Wednesday’s meeting is widely seen as a last-ditch attempt to find a negotiated settlement and avoid a head-on constitutional clash between the state and the region.

Mr Pujol said the funds were inherited from his father, who died in 1980. “Unfortunately, I never found the right moment to regularise this inheritance,” he added. The former president declined to say how much money he kept outside Spain, or where the money was held. Mr Pujol apologised for his behaviour and said he was “fully committed” to appear before the tax authorities and the courts.

The former president left active politics 11 years ago but he and his family continue to play an important role in the region. One of his sons, Oriol Pujol, served as secretary-general of the CDC until this month. The region’s former leader is still formally listed as the party’s “founding president”, ahead of Mr Mas.

The biggest risk for the party, and the wider nationalist movement, is that Mr Pujol’s confessions will trigger leaks and media reports implicating other Catalan politicians. In his statement on Friday, the former president was at pains to limit the fallout from the scandal, taking all the blame on his shoulders.

The rightwing Madrid press reacted with undisguised glee to Mr Pujol’s admission. ABC, a pro-government newspaper and a leading critic of the Catalan independence movement, published a front-page photo of Mr Pujol on Sunday, and a headline declaring “The confession of Pujol delegitimizes the Catalan independence challenge”.

El País, the left-leaning paper, published an article on Sunday highlighting the reaction inside the party founded by Mr Pujol: “Party morale has hit rock bottom and its leaders tried . . . to isolate the scandal and avoid any damage for president Artur Mas and the Catalan independence process.”