Sessions of the Catalan Parliament are sometimes (maybe always) televised, but I never watch them. It’s enough for me to see clips and read or hear the summaries of what went on. But today was different.
Today, Jordi Pujol, former President of the Generalitat of Catalunya testified at a special session – an enquiry. I believe there are parliamentary enquiries and parliamentary investigations and this was the former. It was meant to clarify details pertaining to President Pujol’s confession of 25 July when he announced that ever since 1982, he has had a large amount of money – an inheritance from his father – in an Andorran bank and that this money and this account were never declared to the Spanish tax authority.
I admit that I didn’t think this was as serious an offense as many people here did. I think at least half the population here has bought or sold a property where part of the transaction was in “black” money. This is money that is paid but is not included in the deed. It lowers the purchase tax and property tax base for the buyer and lowers the capital gains (if any) for the seller. Until recently, it was standard procedure for the notary to leave the room for a few minutes during any property transaction so that the black money could be paid without his “knowing.” Those who haven’t engaged in a property transaction with black money have been party to shops and workmen (contractors, electricians, etc.) who ask you if you want a receipt. If you do, you pay IVA (sales tax) and the transaction will be recorded. If you don’t want a receipt, you don’t pay IVA and the transaction, well, it never took place.
I’m not saying this to excuse President Pujol. I expect political leaders that I vote for to be honest, and to pay their taxes. I am just trying to put it into perspective. As far as I’m concerned, what is serious is if a politician engages in influence peddling, taking bribes, or doctoring books for personal gain. There is so much of that going on that it boggles the mind, and dozens of such cases pending in the courts. Tax evasion? Well that’s a national hobby in many countries.
The session began with President Pujol giving, in the allowed twenty minutes, his explanation. He went into a brief the history of how his father made his fortune, how he decided to go into politics rather than follow his father’s footsteps into the business world, about the inheritance and why his father had put the money in a bank in Andorra ending with some vague explanation of why he kept it that way all these years.
Each political party had designated one person who would question President Pujol and each had ten minutes to do that. The questions would all be stated and once all six parties had finished, Pujol would respond.
The questioning started out very civilized, even though the first up was L’Esquerra Republicana (the Republican Left), hardly an ally of Pujol’s CIU. With all the respect you would expect due a former head of state (Pujol was President of the Generalitat of Catalunya for 23 years and is considered by many as a sort of father of modern Catalunya) the rep asked why all of a sudden, Pujol, after more than 30 years, decided to confess on 25 July that he had money in an undeclared foreign bank account. How much, exactly was the inheritance, by what means had the amount grown to the large amount that currently exists, had he added anything to the account during those years, and if so, where did that money come from and could he present wills, bank records, etc. to substantiate the answers to these questions?
The second party was the Socialists and they asked, in a similar tone and with the same respect, more or less the same questions as L’Esquerra had.
Then it was the turn of the PP (The Catalan section of the national PP party that governs Spain). Their representative Alicia Sanchez Camacho, in a very belligerent tone, began to hammer questions at President Pujol. These questions were not limited to the inheritance and the Andorran bank account, they covered questions about every political scandal that has happened in Catalunya for the last 30 years. There was no pretense of respect for the man who was a former President. It was one of the rudest displays I’ve ever seen.
Beyond digging up all manner of irrelevant scandals, apparently done simply so that the Spanish news could utilize damning news bites, the PP rep also made reference to the Catalan independence movement and the plans for a referendum. This has been a PP strategy ever since Pujol confessed. They keep trying to smear the independence movement with scent of scandal. But President Pujol has had nothing to do with the independence movement. He was not a declared independentist when he was in government and has not been active in the movement since it has gained momentum, except to say he supports it.
Most of what the PP rep was talking about made no sense and had nothing to do with the subject at hand. In any case, this wasn’t a judicial proceeding and she’s not a prosecutor. Her questions were accusations and were delivered rapidly, like a barrage from a machine gun. Never mind that she is involved in a scandal and has refused to come and testify before a similar Parliament enquiry. The holier than thou, the more corrupt.
The C’s, another right wing group followed suit with disrespect and irrelevant questions, digging up pretty much the same list as the PP had done, although with slightly less ferocity (they aren’t as powerful and so are probably less corrupt).
Both Camacho and the C’s rep accused Pujol repeatedly of having lied and of not being trustworthy. They said whatever he said, he could not be believed. In that case, was there any reason for him to respond to their questions?
The Greens managed to be rude without being belligerent.
And then there was CUP. I’ve never gotten it entirely straight who these people are. They are young, they refuse to wear suits and always show up in t-shirts, usually with some slogan or other. In their typical anarchist style, their rep made a stab at denouncing corruption but didn’t add any valuable question to the list that President Pujol might respond to. Then they all marched out before the session ended.
CIU is President Pujol’s own party. They are naturally dismayed and sad that this situation has come to pass. They would like similar explanations to what the first two parties asked so that the public can be reassured (and so that they might extricate themselves from the muck). And they denounced the irrelevant and irreverent performances by PP and C’s, saying this was an enquiry, not an opportunity to further Spain’s anti-independence stand or create an info-bite/photo opportunity for the press.
President Pujol was very angry, and I can see why. He is the former President of the Generalitat, an elected position he held for 23 years. He was invited to testify and he accepted the invitation and came. He was not required to do so. It’s not even clear why he confessed in the first place: He had not been accused of anything by anyone. Today, he expected to be treated civilly and he was not. The session had turned into a circus and yet he was its protagonist. He spoke for some minutes and was so heated up and so angry that I was worried he would have a heart attack. The man is 84 years old. After fielding questions (some of them hardly even pretending to be questions) he didn’t answer any of them. And I don’t really blame him. Who knows if the inexcusable behavior of PP and C’s caused him not to respond to questions, or if he was shrewd enough to use that as an excuse. But frankly, I don’t think anyone in his position should have to endure the kind of public treatment he received today.