Catalan scandal engulfs Spanish constructors

Ferrovial – one of the world’s largest infrastructure groups – ACS, Abertis and FCC and others, have found themselves at the centre of a scandal rocking Catalonia on the eve of a crucial election that might see the region become independent from Spain.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a leaked document from the Unidad Central de Delincuencia Economica y Fiscal – the police’s financial crimes unit – detailing a tangled web of allegedly illicit payments from several construction companies in exchange for winning tenders awarded by the Catalan government. 

According to the documents, the alleged kickback money helped finance Catalonia’s ruling party, CDC, CiU, an affiliated political organisation, and several key party and government figures through offshore bank accounts. 

Concert promoter

Instrumental in the kickbacks scheme was Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica, a government-backed concert promoter, which purportedly helped divert the funds, together with several affiliates. Here’s how the alleged scheme worked, according to El Mundo’s leaked documents:

“La Generalitat [the Catalan government] would launch a tender for a public work in Catalonia. Several different entities would submit bids, with the [winning] contractor, in most cases, being Ferrovial. At the same time as the award, the winning contractor (in most cases, Ferrovial) would receive an invoice from one of the Palau’s institutions equivalent to 4 percent of the awarded tender, plus VAT.”

The money would then supposedly make its way to CDC and key government figures through a circuitous route of ‘dummy’ companies and Swiss bank accounts.

“Publicly, Ferrovial appeared as the main sponsor of a series of concerts named PALAU-100 […] Nevertheless, it is obvious that these sponsorships were destined to pay the commissions,” the police documents state.

A spokesman from Ferrovial had no comment when contacted by Infrastructure Investor. But in 2010, when allegations first surfaced on the Palau’s role in diverting sponsorship money to finance Catalonia’s ruling party, the company issued the following statement:

“The company has no influence over the way in which Fundación del Palau de la Música and Orfeo Catalán use the funds donated to them as part of its sponsorship activities and, therefore, it is unaware of how such funds were used. All activities sponsored by Ferrovial Agroman, whether single concerts or entire seasons, referred to events which were actually organized by Palau de la Música. Ferrovial Agroman was cited as sponsor in all such cases.”

The statement continued: “The tenders referred to in the tax authority’s report were conducted in conformity with stringent administrative procedures and complied with the legal principles and requirements: the bidding specifications established objective criteria for an accurate evaluation of the bids, and contracts were awarded to the bids that were most favourable to the public interest. The tax authority’s report did not analyse the above-mentioned procedures.”

While Ferrovial is repeatedly quoted as the main participant in the alleged kickbacks scheme, several other Spanish construction companies are also referred to, including: ACS and subsidiary Dragados, alleged to have paid €250,000 via the scheme; Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC), alleged to have paid €159,000; and Abertis, purported to have paid €150,000 – among others.

ACS and Abertis could not be reached for comment before publication. A spokeswoman for FCC declined to comment.

Artur Mas – the president of the Catalan government, leader of the CDC and chairman of the CiU –called a snap election for November 25 with the outcome unknown at press time. It may have seen Catalonia break away from Spain and gain independence. 

Mas pledged to hold a referendum on independence if his party were awarded a majority of the votes. Spain’s central government has deemed a referendum unconstitutional and has threatened to use all legal means available to prevent one. 

Sources in Spain have argued that the timing of the leaks was directly connected to the elections. Mas himself has said he will sue El Mundo for libel and accused the government of being behind the leaks as part of an “all-out dirty war” to derail the independence effort.