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Financial irregularities?

Martin Delfin, MadridJanuary 27, 2016

As Podemos mulls an alliance with Spain's Socialists, allegations have surfaced about the party’s ties with Iran and Venezuela. But as Martin Delfín reports from Madrid, questions are being raised about the timing.

Image: imago/Agencia EFE

A Spanish police inquiry into alleged payments by Iran to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and a secret video showing one of his top party officials boarding a Venezuelan presidential jet bound for Caracas have fueled new concerns about the anti-austerity grouping's aims in trying to push the Socialists (PSOE) to join forces to form a coalition government.

Podemos has questioned the timing of the release of the video and the leak of the police documents while it seeks talks with PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez.

Spain's two major parties - Popular Party (PP) and PSOE - are scrambling to come up with partnerships with other political groupings after they both failed to win an absolute majority in the December 20 parliamentary race.

Podemos, now the country's third-leading force, has offered to join PSOE to build a leftist coalition government while the PP is trying to convince Sánchez and the pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party to form a grand coalition without Podemos.

Revealing video

Last week, the private television network Antena 3 broadcast a video that showed María José Aguilar, who is in charge of Podemos in Castilla-La Mancha, boarding a Venezuelan air force jet that President Nicolás Maduro uses on official trips.

Travelling to Caracas with her were about 30 passengers, including Ana Gabriel, a top deputy from Catalonia's anti-capitalist, pro-independence CUP party and Ignacio Gil de San Vicente, the father-in-law of captured ETA Basque terrorist leader David Pla, who has also been identified as having connections to Colombia's FARC insurgency.

The video was secretly recorded in December 2014 at the Adolfo Suárez-Madrid Barajas International Airport but was only recently released publicly.

Podemos and CUP officials acknowledged that Maduro paid for their travel to Caracas to attend an international conference where Catalonia independence and other global issues were discussed.

man at ceremony (C): Reuters/Miraflores Palace
Maduro apparently provided his jet for the Podemos entourageImage: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

But the leaders of the other parties, including acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative PP and many in PSOE, have demanded more explanations about Podemos' connections with Venezuela, ETA and Iran.

Dirty campaign?

Cristina Rosales, a 29-year-old veterinarian assistant who said she voted for Podemos and "will continue to support" the party, suspects that a dirty campaign has been launched by the current PP government, with the help of some media outlets, to pressure PSOE to break coalition talks with the party.

"The question is: why is this coming out now? The video is old and the police report against Pablo Iglesias was released just after they won parliamentary seats," Rosales told DW. "This smells really bad."

A week earlier, the Spanish news portal El Confidencial (Confidential) posted documents that purportedly show that the National Police's Economic and Financial Crimes Unit (UDEF) has opened an investigation into Iglesias's finances.

Iglesias allegedly received 5 million euros from the government of Iran through a series bank transfers from third countries for his political activities, according to a series of reports by El Confidencial.

Police are reportedly looking at the money Iglesias may have received from an Iranian businessman Mahmoud Alizadeh Azimi through HispanTV, a Spanish-language TV network set up by Iran in 2011. Iglesias hosted a talk show called "Fort Apache" on HispanTV.

In his latest financial declarations posted recently on his party's website, Iglesias reported that in 2014 he earned 107,600 euros from salaries as a European Parliament lawmaker, university lecturer and freelance activities. His earnings were twice as much as the previous year.

"Podemos' pockets are clean," Iglesias said at a news conference after the report came out. "We would love UDEF to investigate. We are here at their disposal."

Juan Manuel Roa, president of the Spanish NGO Asociación para la Transparencia Pública (Association for Public Transparency), told DW that Iglesias has always been upfront about his personal finances.

man celebrating Reuters/S. Perez
His supporters say Iglesias is the victim of a campaign by his opponentsImage: Reuters/S. Perez

"Iglesias' posting of his financial records wasn't done under pressure because of this news report," Roa said. "His group as a whole has always been open and he has always posted his financial statements on the Podemos website."

In December, Roa's organization released its first Dynamic Transparency Index (DYNTRA) on Spain's political parties. Podemos ranked second when it came to openness about its finances and contracts as well as the ease of access to party information by the public.

José Ramón Pérez, an independent political consultant who advises private companies on government issues, said he found it "interesting" how these new allegations are now surfacing as political talks get underway.

Conspiracy theories abound

But he also told DW he doesn't believe that there is "a conspiracy" between some in the media and the current Rajoy administration to derail attempts by Podemos to enter government.

"There is that big question as to why these reports are coming out now, and I think it is a valid one, but we will never get any answers," Pérez said.

"It might be true that Podemos' leaders have not revealed all their political aims, but at this point I don't think there is real proof of any illegal financing or ties to terrorists, otherwise the government would have already moved to outlaw the party," he said.