Graphics: María Zuil
07/28/2019 05:00 – Updated: 07/28/2019 10:32
On July 23, 2009, the Mossos d’Esquadra entered the Palau de la Música Catalana with a search warrant. The Catalan bourgeoisie, or what is almost the same, the business and political elite of Catalonia, contained horrified its breath. Fèlix Millet, president of the Palau since 1990, moved agitated that morning. His mobile phone did not stop ringing. One of the calls was from Artur Mas. That interest was then overlooked, but it would end up being premonitory. The judicial operation had just started; it would demonstrate the illegal financing of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) through the award of public works, from which it obtained as a counterpart 3% of the budget as a commission. Ferrovial was the company involved in the plot of the Palau. In its case the commission amounted to 4%: 2.5% for Convergencia and another 1.5% for Millet and Jordi Montull, director of administration of the Palau.
Joan Llinares (Alzira, 1953) is the man who shook the carpet of political rot in Catalonia ten years ago. After the immediate resignation of Millet, Llinares was appointed general director of the Palau de la Música on July 29, 2009. His mission: to audit the accounts of the institution and regain the confidence of the board of trustees, patrons and society. He arrived at Palau at 8 am on July 30 and barely left from there for months. He never imagined that, in the bowels of that beautiful modernist palace, a meeting point for the Catalan social elite, he would find a slew of political corruption, excessive greed and organized crime.
Judicial search in the Palau de la Música in July 2009. (EFE)
After a year and a half of intense work, on December 31, 2010, Llinares left the Palau with the satisfaction of the duty fulfilled. He had shaken all the carpets and delivered irrefutable evidence to the judicial authority to process both the old Palau administrators and the Convergencia leaders. With the first there was luck. Felix Millet, his right hand Montull and his daughter, Gemma Montull, were sentenced to long prison sentences, of which they have barely served a few months pending the final ruling of the Supreme Court. They have only returned 5.91 million of the 23 they looted.
With Convergence there was not so much luck. Daniel Osàcar, then the party’s treasurer, was the only one who took the rap. Artur Mas did not even go to trial as a witness. Another ten senior officials of Jordi Pujol’s party also came out unscathed. Some of them currently manage the reins of the Generalitat and the independence project. They have not stopped governing in the last decade, despite the fact that the Audience of Barcelona credited a embezzlement of 35 million from the Palau de la Música. Another 9.6 million have not been identified, their trail lost forever because of the destruction of documents made in the days after the judicial search and also by the silence of Millet and Montull, who if nothing changes will take many secrets to their tombs.
Joan Llinares is director of the Valencian Agency Antifraude since May 2017.
QUESTION. What a wonderful trip your one year and a half journey as the top manager of the Palau de la Música.
ANSWER. And notice that it all starts with the Mossos search to investigate a suspicious exit of two million in cash, in 500-euro bills, in two remittances. That triggered the alarms on money laundering at the Tax Agency, which requested documentation. From the Palau they gave very strange explanations, the Agency found reasonable doubts and informed the prosecutor. That is the antecedent of the entrance of the Mossos, of the forced resignation of Fèlix Millet and of my arrival.
Q. The Palau consortium entrusted you with the task of auditing the accounts of the Palau de la Música and cleaning up the institution. I guess they didn’t imagine that you would go thus far, especially Convergencia.
A. I took the leading role of the Palau de la Música with the tranquility of my more than 20 years of experience in cultural management, an area that I dominated, so I did not expect to encounter more problems than those already known. But on July 30, 2009, as soon as I crossed the door at 8 in the morning, surprises began to happen.
Q. Explain, please.
A. The first surprise comes when I ask the financial director to notify the banking entities with which the Palau had accounts that there were changes and that the accounts were blocked until the new proxies were appointed. Because since the search of the Mossos d’Esquadra a few days before nobody had done anything, the proxies were still Felix Millet and Jordi Montull.
When I see that it takes such a long time to execute that first order, I ask what happens, and I am surprised to know that there are almost 100 bank accounts. That already put me on alert. The financial director of the Palau was Gemma Montull, the daughter of the director of administration. She was putting all kind of obstacles for everything. At that time I did not know that she and her father were being investigated, because the judicial proceedings were under summary secrecy.
Fèlix Millet, Jordi Montull and Gemma Montull during the trial of the Palau case. (EFE)
Q. Millet, Montull and their daughter formed a true criminal plot.
A. I find Montull on the first day, on July 30. He tells me that he is going on vacation and that he will tell me things about the Palau when he returns. I had asked him to explain the purchase of a three million property by the Palau from a real estate company that, they had informed me, was their property. The operation had been done only two days before the search of the Mossos. That first day I also opened the Palau’s box. The Mossos had credited the existence of 200,000 euros in that box seven days before. When I open it, I find only 2,000. The secretary of Fèlix Millet tells me that this box is owned by Millet and that the missing money has been taken by him.
Q. When do you start to see that the plot has a political derivative?
A. That same month of August. Seeing so many strange things I say “you have to do a forensic audit to know what is behind each document”. And among the papers that appear in August are agreements signed with the Trias Fargas, the foundation of Democratic Convergence [later renamed CatDem]. It is an annual agreement amounting to 650,000 euros in payments in recent years. The Palau paid the foundation with a generic objective, which is to carry out cultural activities. We studied these agreements and saw that they had not gone through the board; they were Millet’s personal decisions.
Bills of hundreds of thousands of euros appeared. Companies that provided services to Convergence but were paid by the Palau.
Then began to appear bills of hundreds of thousands of euros from three companies that were essentially engaged in election campaigns. Under very simple epigraphs such as ‘mailing’ carried out to promote the Palau, amounts that exceeded three million had been billed. Invoices of 90,000 euros, of 130,000. They were very simple bills on paper, without any proof or report. They provided services to Convergence, but it was the Palau who paid the bills.
Q. Did the Palau workers know that?
A. They told me that they did not know those companies, that they had never worked for the Palau and that the concepts of the invoices were false. To this is added another detail: invoice that arrived, invoice that was paid the same day of arrival. It was a very serious sign of abnormality.
Q. And at that point comes the surreal call of Felip Puig, the strong man of Convergence, in an episode worthy of the Cosa Nostra.
A. It took place in full negotiations to recover the money from the agreements signed with the Convergencia Foundation. Suddenly a telephone rings in the office, which Jordi Montull previously occupied. There were several devices on the table, but it wasn’t any of them. The sound came from inside a drawer. I opened it. It was a phone that I had already seen but I thought they had it stored and disconnected there. I pick it up and Felip Puig identifies himself. He says “well, is everything clear about the agreements now? Has anything else come out?” I reply that the agreements are being negotiated and that on the rest I cannot give any explanation. I was dumbfounded.
Q. You have recognized that you had serious problems with Convergencia when you started shaking the carpets.
A. It was after many months. Once we reformed the statutes and reorganized the Palau to ensure transparency and that the system of four parallel organizations was eliminated so that there was a single budget management and a single tax ID number, a former high position of Convergencia, José María Busquets, was appointed as provisional president. The first thing he did was try to isolate my work. He ordered the legal team from that moment to dispatch with him alone.
On the other hand, just after winning CiU in the regional elections on November 28, 2010, a new board of directors entered the Palau in which I saw old glories of Convergencia like Jordi Sumarroca, involved in the whole plot of 3%, which began to hinder my work and condition everything I did. By then I had already taken all the documentation to the court and we were seeing if the Palau de la Música would accuse not only against Millet and Montull, but also against Convergencia, the political party that had appeared taking advantage of the Palau and looting it.
Q. Something that did not happen.
A. Yes it was done, but they withdrew it afterwards. I, as director of the public consortium of the Palau, imposed myself. I ordered the legal service to extend the personification in the case and accuse Convergencia to recover the 6 million euros that had been appropriated by it.
Q. And how does Convergencia finally avoid it?
A. Well, it’s simple. When Convergencia wins the elections, Artur Mas has a free way to control the consortium of the Palau de la Música. I had long warned that on December 31, my services ended, because the audit and reorganization were finished. Only the patrons asked me to stay. They insisted that I continue because I had managed to recover the trust in the institution.
Q. Nor did you want to continue in a Convergencia-controlled Palau de la Música.
A. That’s right. Sitting at the same table with Artur Mas, knowing everything I knew he had done at the Palau, turned my guts upside down. I have endured many things, but that was impossible. If it is also added that in the Palau board had entered characters who already seemed linked to the illegal financing of the party through other cases that were appearing in the media, things got worse. Then David Madí, Artur Mas’s right hand, came to take part in the creation of the Convergencia communication strategy. With that panorama, continuing in the Palau was a total masochism.
The Palau de la Música is one of the jewels of Catalan modernism. (Palau de la Música)
Q. The plot of 3%, whose most symbolic episode is the Palau case, is the Gürtel of Catalonia?
A. It is clear that the 3% is institutional corruption at the highest level.
Many people who continue to lead Catalan politics today should be at home or in jail
Q. And still there is a feeling that, even today, everybody tiptoes over that plot. Has the ‘procés’ served to whiten Convergencia and divert attention from institutional corruption in Catalonia?
R. With this plot of the Palau and with everything that has been uncovered about the 3%, many people who continue to govern and direct Catalan politics today should be completely apart, either at home or in jail. But there they continue.
Oriol Pujol, Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont at a press conference in Girona in September 2011. (CDC)
Q. What do you feel when you see the same faces linked to the Palau de la Música case, from Artur Mas to David Madí through Agustí Colomines, today the ideologue of the independence leadership and then president of the Trias Fargas Foundation, at the head of the Catalan institutions ten years later?
A. My feeling, for this case and for the rest in the Spanish State, is that there is no awareness of the damage corruption causes. There is no political predisposition at the government level to seriously trying to fight against it. They use corruption to throw the stuff at each other and nothing else. There is no awareness in Catalonia or in the rest of the State and that makes corruption latent. Parasites, bands organized in all political parties, who perpetuate themselves in power and enrich illegally. It is surprising that we do not have specific laws as in France or Italy.
Q. It does not appear that Catalonia has standards of transparency and democratic quality superior to those of the rest of Spain, as is usually suggested.
A. No, but here knowing how to sell the product has an influence. My land, Valencia, seems to be the place where there are more corrupts in Spain because of the characters’ horrific nature, but I have been studying the phenomenon of corruption for many years and I have not seen substantial differences in any territory of Spain. The system is structured so that public works contracts are made according to the politician on duty.
This has also been perfected to the most absolute perversity, and they even boast that the files are perfect. Artur Mas has been heard to say this more than once when he is accused of 3%, or Paco Camps, or politicians in Madrid and Andalusia. Everything is fine because administratively they have managed to make it undetectable. But in Andalusia and in Catalonia the ‘modus operandi’ are the same, and the mentality of those involved is very little differentiated. The biggest difference is ideology, through which some play the role of victimhood and inventing certain political persecutions.
The only difference between corrupts in Spain is that ‘some play the role of victimhood and of inventing certain political persecutions’
Q. Perhaps Catalan society has been the most docile of the entire State with its political class?
A. In the Valencian Community or in the Balearic Islands, parties with corruption cases have paid for it electorally. Also at the level of Spain, the government of Mariano Rajoy falls after the sentence of the Gürtel, which condemns the Popular Party as a participant, and corruption is used to motivate the vote of no coincidence.
Q. And why is Catalonia different?
A. Because in Catalonia there is a component that accompanies all the corruption processes: they have normalized it. Its normalization, the trivialization of the problem.
Q. That is very serious.
A. Well, that trivialization is not exclusive to Catalonia. Only in some places it has more successes and in others less.
Q. And why? Is Catalan society especially asleep or perhaps forgive these sins in exchange for other candies?
A. There have been certain reactions to corruption within Catalan society, let’s not forget that the CUP prevents the investiture of Artur Mas because it considers him a corrupt. Or the name changes of Convergencia, which has made so many watermarks with them that I no longer know how it is called. Another thing is that the cleaning that should be done has not been done. Like the fact that Mr. David Madí is still on the board of the Palau de la Música. Why did the board refuse to accuse Convergencia in the trial knowing that six million euros belonging to the Palau were implied in the game? The feeling that corruption is still there is when I see people with so much power involved in judicial cases.
Demonstrators for the independence of Catalonia hold the portrait of Artur Mas. (EFE)
Q. You have been very hard on Artur Mas. You have accused him of being the hand that rocked the cradle of 3%, although he has repeatedly denied that Convergencia was financed irregularly.
R. To think that a treasurer decides something within a party [in reference to Daniel Osácar, former Convergencia member] is something that nobody believes. We have Sarkozy charged for a financing issue for his party in France because he is the political leader and the one who makes the strategic decisions. He is chased because he is the most responsible, and he resigns. That happens in France and in any country. In Spain it is the treasurers who assume the criminal responsibility for corruption cases: this is embarrassing. It is an acknowledgment that you don’t want to touch the true corrupt structures of political organizations.
That in Spain it is the treasurers who assume the criminal responsibility for corruption cases is embarrassing
The lesson that I took from the Palau de la Música is that the treasurers were going to collect the money, period; but that all this was negotiated much higher. How does a multinational company that builds public works like Ferrovial give a treasurer a million among many other remittances? To the treasurer? It will be to the party! And who has negotiated this at the highest levels? There is a lack of respect for the intelligence of people which is in the background of how corruption is assumed as part of the system. It is that, if not, it won’t wash! I don’t understand how they can reach the limit of blaming treasurers.
Q. Beyond the judicial treatment, whose hardness can be discussed, the image of many Spanish politicians such as Francisco Camps, Eduardo Zaplana, Mariano Rajoy himself, have been socially stained. However, the majority of Convergencia leaders of that time are still referents in Catalonia. What do you think?
A. It causes me real shame. It is intolerable that there are people directly involved in the looting of public coffers for their own benefit, to alter the results of democracy, which is what illegal party financing is for, to collect envelopes … All this is a public shame of which the whole country should be doing catharsis, starting of course in Catalonia.
Fèlix Millet upon arrival at the courts. (EFE)
Q. Fèlix Millet is credited with the aphorism that ‘Catalonia is 400 people, we are always the same’. Maybe that is the root of the problem.
A. Well, that saying about families has been like that. Politics has been a matter of groups, of elites, and when Millet said it this was for some reason. Millet was an award-winning gentleman and admired by all. Before the search of the Mossos in the Palau de la Música he was going to be given the gold medal of the city of Barcelona, approved by the city council, I believe, unanimously. You can only see the minutes of the commission that granted it, all the praises that the political parties did to him. [The businessman and founder of Convergencia, Jordi Sumarroca, linked to the plot of 3%, received the Cross of Sant Jordi de la Generalitat in 2010].
Q. Has Catalonia learned the lesson of the Palau de la Música?
A. I once heard a corrupt man asked if he would do it again, and the answer was “yes, and I would do it better”. Sometimes it seems that the cases we have uncovered serve to improve the plot and the ‘modus operandi’. If these people are still there, it is simply because we lack a global strategy against corruption.