Since Pasqual Maragall made his famous 3% accusation against Convergència i Unió on February 24th 2005, the shadow of the illegal commissions has always lurked in the background and been a focus of suspicion. The raid by the Civil Guard on the CDC offices in Barcelona on Wednesday (October 21st 2015) in what is known as Operation Petrum has brought the issue back into the headlines.
Artur Mas has always claimed that he personally is innocent of the accusation and has defended the honesty and transparency of CDC at least since he took over leadership of the party in 2002-03.
In order to give some background to the controversy, I have loosely translated an article by Santiago Tarín entitled "La Història del 3%" published in La Vanguardia on Sunday 25th October 2015.
Below you'll find the video of the original exchange between Pasqual Maragall and Artur Mas in the Parliament of Catalonia followed by some conclusions of my own.
On February 24th 2005, in an an extraordinary session of the Parliament of Catalonia called because of the Carmel metro disaster, the then President of the Generalitat, Pasqual Maragall, began to speak and looking at the leader of the opposition, Artur Mas, spat out the words "you people have got a problem, and it's called 3%".
Maragall brought out into the open the suspicion that CiU were charging illegal commissions in return for public works contracts, which until that point had not been mentioned. The fact that Esquerra Republicana's campaign slogan in the previous elections had been "Mans Netes" (Clean Hands) suggests that the fact that there were corrupt practices in Catalan politics was common knowledge. For that reason, nobody had any doubts about what Maragall was referring to when spoke of the 3%.
Pasqual Maragall had spoken out once he had available to him the results of an audit in the Generalitat that had been presided by Jordi Pujol from 1980 to 2003. The document, published in 2004, starts with the odd statement "The purpose of this report isn't the detection of delinquent or fraudulent activities."
However, it went on to stress the importance of separating political and administrative systems so that there was "a dividing line between decision-making structures and administrative structures". In the conclusion the report mentions the impenetrability and arbitrary nature of the administration, the random and abusive allocation of contracts as well as the employment of family members and friends. However, the audit report was never taken to court.
The day after Maragall's claims in Parliament, the then chief public prosecutor, José Maria Mena, gave orders to open an investigation into the 3%. Businessman José Luis Salguero made accusations that he'd been asked for money in return for the concession of a public works contract. The central character in the accusation was Josep Maria Penin, a distant relative of Felip Puig, and it mainly involved Adigsa, the public company that administered the Generalitat's public social housing programme and at the time depended on the Public Works department, directed by Felip Puig, and later was run by the Environment department under the Tripartit.
The issue originally provoked a lot of interest, which subsided over time, because it never got to any high-level politicians and all the accused were eventually exonerated. Finally, limits were imposed on Adigsa and the restoration of apartments, which were included in the Pla Jove that offered reasonably priced public housing to young people.
The case is still waiting to go on trial and the public prosecutor has accused seven people in total, including Josep Maria Fondevila, who was executive director of Adigsa, along with two more of the firm's directors. The rest are the intermediary Penin and businessmen, including Salguero, who moved to Seville after the scandal and now mainly works abroad. The public prosecutor is asking for sentences that go from ten years to two and a half years for Salguero.
Apparently, Penin was paid €29,000 by Adigsa for no good reason, and commissions of up to 20% were paid in order to win the contracts. The businessmen then added what they'd paid in commissions to the price of the apartments, which were then bought using public money. In the case notes, the public prosecutor adds that Fondevila, Penin and the president of Adigsa, Ferran Falcó, who was among the accused, were all party members of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya.
Adigs was the first 3% case case and was closely followed by the Palau Case, which also involved the paying of commissions and is also yet to be tried. This time the system described by the Anti-Corruption Public Prosector is that the construction company Ferrovial paid CDC in return for being adjudicated public works such as the Ciutat de la Justicia and Line 9 of the metro, and the Palau de la Música was the intermediary. Here the figure is around 4% with 2.5% for CDC and 1.5% for Felix Millet and Jordi Montull, the directors of the Palau.
The current 3% investigation is known as Operation Petrum and involves another public company, Infraestructures.cat, and CDC once again. The suspicion centres on commissions of upto 10% being paid the CDC foundations, CatDem and Fòrum Barcelona in return for the adjudication of public works. Looking back over its judicial history, the 3% is a symbol but the reality is much more dynamic.
Artur Mas seems completely convinced of his innocence in the video and later brought a lawsuit against Maragall for the accusation.
The slowness of the judicial system means that we are talking about very old cases dating from before 2003, which must have been the responsibility of the Generalitat when it was governed by Pujol.
The Tripartit (PSC, ERC and ICV-EUiA) governed Catalonia from 2003 to 2010 and as far as I know although there have been corruption cases in town councils, there have been no new cases at a national level since Artur Mas became President of the Generalitat in 2010.
It will be interesting to see whether Operation Petrum changes that.