Financial Times

August 10, 2014 7:31 pm

Crisis of former Catalan leader Pujol deepens

By Ian Mount in Barcelona

Former President of Catalonia Jordi Pujol©AFP

Former president of Catalonia Jordi Pujol

The legal storm surrounding a former president of Catalunya has significantly worsened in the past few days.

On Friday a judge investigating Jordi Pujol for possible tax evasion in relation to an undeclared family inheritance requested information about bank accounts held by him, his family and their representatives. As well as writing to the Swiss and Andorran authorities to ask for these details, the judge also demanded that Mr Pujol file his father’s will with the court.

On the same day, two representatives of Spain’s tax agency delivered a formal request for declaration to Mr Pujol at his rural retreat in Queralbs, a small town in the Spanish Pyrenees.

The demand for bank account data also widens the scandal surrounding 84-year old Mr Pujol, whose son is separately under investigation for collecting illegal commissions on government contracts and moving the money overseas.The moves threatened to complicate Catalonia’s drive toward a vote on secession from Spain, which is being led by Mr Pujol’s political heir, Artur Mas.

Mr Pujol was president of Catalonia for 23 years, and is the founder of Convergéncia Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), the centre-right nationalist party that has dominated regional politics since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

On July 25, Pujol sent shockwaves through Catalan political circles when he announced that he had kept an undeclared family inheritance outside Spain since his father’s death in 1980.

In the statement he released at the time of the announcement, Mr Pujol said he had not revealed the inheritance before because he had “never found the right time” and that he alone was responsible for the situation.

The inquiry into whether Mr Pujol’s son Jordi Pujol Ferrusola had been paid commissions by winning bids on government contracts was revealed in a July report from Udef, Spain’s financial police unit, which detailed millions in euros in commissions allegedly paid by construction firms to businesses controlled by Mr Pujol Ferrusola and his former wife, Mercé Gironés Riera. Neither has made any statement about the allegations and they have not been charged.

In December 2012, one of Mr Pujol Ferrusola’s former girlfriends, María Victoria Álvarez, told the Udef that her former boyfriend regularly took bags of cash to Andorra. She accompanied him on one trip where he took a backpack filled with €400,000 in €500 and €200 bank notes to the country, which is known as a tax haven.

Neither Mr Pujol Ferrusola nor his former wife has made any statement about the allegations. Neither has been charged.

The latest situation is a turnround for Mr Pujol, who in a January 2013 television interview denied having money in Switzerland and suggested that the investigation was a plot against his family. “What the hell is this with the Udef?” he asked the interviewer.

After the inheritance scandal broke, Mr Mas, who now leads the CDC party, announced that Mr Pujol had resigned his benefits as ex-president, including an annual pension of €86,418 and a chauffeured car.

Since then, Mr Pujol has been living in seclusion in various family country houses. None of the family had commented publicly on the scandal until Mr Pujol broke his media silence on Thursday. He told reporters in Queralbs that he was, “at the disposition of any judicial or tax entity” that calls. When asked about the issues facing his son, Mr Pujol said, “If that needs to be taken seriously, it will be. But not through news reports”. He said that he had not yet decided if he would accept an invitation to explain his situation to the Catalan parliament.

The Generalitat, Catalonia’s regional government, has not responded to requests for comment from the Financial Times.

Several parties in the parliament have said they will form an investigating commission and legally subpoena him if he does not attend voluntarily.