Wednesday, October 20

The Government of Mas paid a missing study to a Belgian company investigated for corruption

The judge investigating the diversion of funds from the Government for external expenses of the procés has discovered that the Generalitat led by Artur Mas paid in 2015 more than 4,000 euros for a report on European defense policy – which to this day is unknown if it was carried out – to a Belgian company that was investigated for corruption and money laundering.

As indicated by a spokesman for the Brussels Prosecutor’s Office to, the company SC Services, managed by former Belgian liberal parliamentarian Stefaan Goris, was the subject of two investigations by the Belgian Public Ministry, one for money laundering denounced by the Belgian authority against this type of crime, and another for money laundering and corruption.

The firm was closed in 2018 and the Prosecutor’s Office ended the investigations opened in Belgium. The company did not have workers, according to the reply that the Belgian authorities have sent to the Barcelona judge, which increases the suspicion that it was a mere screen to camouflage the true destination of the payment.

The report commissioned in Belgium is one of the eleven expenses of the Government investigated in the case, which amount to around one million euros. The payments are divided into two subjects: academic works that would exceed the competence of the Government, such as defense, others that dealt with the internationalization of the process and aspects of a new Catalan State, and direct grants to Catalan entities abroad that the Judge does not see sufficiently justified.

Judge Carmen García has found a thread in Belgium to pull. The payment to the company caught the attention of the magistrate, who issued a rogatory commission to Belgium to find out if the work on European defense policy could be a “cover for the theft of public money.” For the moment, the Belgian response gives wings to this hypothesis. The explanation of the Catalan part of the operation remains to be known.

There are two exalted positions of the Government to which the judge attributes the formal order of the study to the Belgian company and the payment and authorization of the invoice worth 4,132.23 euros: the then Secretary of Foreign Affairs and of the European Union of the Generalitat, Roger Albinyana, and the former director of services of the Presidency department, Teresa Prohías, who currently holds the same position in the Vice Presidency. Both will declare as investigated on October 26.

But more people are involved in the operation. Next Thursday, one of the intermediaries in the hiring of the Belgian firm, the sociologist Salvador Cardús, an intellectual close to Artur Mas, will appear as a witness before the judge – and therefore with the obligation to tell the truth. His statement to the police was “confusing and contradictory,” says the judge: first he claimed to have personally received the report, but later he declined.

According to the Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office, Cardús refused to make the report himself, claiming that he was not a specialist in the matter. The next door that Albinyana called was that of the former Convergència deputy in Congress Jordi Xuclà, whom the Prosecutor’s Office indicates as the person who finally suggested the name of the Belgian firm.

Instead of directly paying an academic as it did with other investigated works, the Government paid 4,132.23 euros to the Belgian company SC Services “improperly”, understands the Prosecutor’s Office, since in their opinion Albinyana reported “mendaciously” and considered that the The study conformed to the required quality level when in reality the opposite was the case.

The conclusions and proposals were “non-existent,” says the Public Ministry, a thesis shared by the magistrate. “There is no record of the preparation of the report, nor is its destination known, nor the purpose of its preparation, nor who translated it, nor where it is and, most importantly, it is unknown why the amount was transferred to a bank account abroad “, exposes the judge in a car.

The Belgian report is part of a criminal investigation for prevarication and embezzlement that includes both the Government of Artur Mas and that headed by Carles Puigdemont and has as its origin the report that PP, PSOE and Citizens commissioned the Court of Auditors to oversee the foreign action of the Generalitat between 2011 and 2017. Several of those investigated also face an accounting case in the Court of Accounts.

The history of SC Services and Goris

The SC Services reports had already attracted attention years ago. In 2019, an investigation by the international organization of journalists OCCPR, specialized in exposing corruption and organized crime cases, revealed that the official foundation of Fidesz, the party of the Hungarian prime minister, the xenophobic Viktor Orbán, had paid more than 150,000 euros for a “public law investigation” of dubious value to the signature led by former Belgian parliamentarian Stef Goris, from the Flemish Liberal Party.

The payments occurred when Hungary’s commitment to democracy was being investigated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) between 2013 and 2015. Goris was a former member of PACE, of which he was a member between 1999 and 2007, and at that time At the moment he was still an honorary member of the body, which gave him access to its facilities. Xuclà was also a member of PACE between 2008 and 2019.

Goris was also involved in the Azerbaijan government’s gift and bribery scandal to members of the Council of Europe. In 2018, the organization considered Goris, who was then a ‘lobbyist’ for the Caucasian country, as a “key or fundamental figure” in Azerbaijan’s gear of influence on the members of the institution with the aim of improving the country’s image.

A report from the Council itself revealed irregularities by several of its members as observers of the 2015 Azerbaijani elections. The report described as “suspicious” the performance of Xuclà as head of the delegation of the PACE mission in the 2015 parliamentary elections in the country, and Although he pointed out that he violated the institution’s code of conduct, he exonerated the Catalan deputy from the most serious accusations after hearing his allegations. Xuclà admitted to having met with Goris but disassociated himself from the irregularities in Azerbaijan.

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