economy and politics

Neurona case: two years of the case that began with "rumorology" and ended up looking for nannies from Podemos

Neurona case: two years of the case that began with "rumorology" and ended up looking for nannies from Podemos

Two years ago, a Madrid court launched proceedings 1182/2020. An investigation arrived from Martorell (Barcelona), where a lawyer named José Manuel Calvente had reported to the Civil Guard a bunch of irregularities allegedly committed within Podemos, a party for which he had worked and from which he had left between unproven accusations of sexual harassment. Two years after the opening of the case, only one of the multiple separate pieces opened by Judge Juan José Escalonilla as a result of that statement remains open, waiting to know whether or not it will go to trial: payments from Podemos to the consultant Neurona for jobs in the 2019 electoral campaign. Along the way, investigations into an alleged ‘box B’ within the training, non-existent bonuses and even more than a year of proceedings to discover if several collaborators of Irene Montero and the party committed a crime by holding their baby during working hours.

The case began with the declaration of Calvente, a lawyer who had left the party’s legal department at a crossroads of unproven accusations and a direct confrontation with Marta Flor, another of the lawyers who acts in court on behalf of Podemos. He accused Flor and the party of trying to manipulate legal proceedings in her favor and having too close a relationship with the prosecutor in the Tándem case. And the party responded by accusing the lawyer of having sexually harassed his partner. Calvente’s accusations remained in the headlines and those of the party ended in firm acquittal for the lawyer.

In this context of maximum conflict, José Manuel Calvente arrived at court number 42 in Madrid and testified for three hours. He was confirmed in his denunciation of simulated contracts in the party for an electoral campaign, but pointed out: “It is not that I affirm it categorically, because they are still a series of indications.” As he explained, they had come to him from colleagues whom he did not want to remove from anonymity. “These are people who fear for their work, they are truly scared. Currently, Podemos is an authoritarian party. It is threatening people. It has created a circle for me, a cordon sanitaire,” he lamented before the judge.

That day he also targeted the founder of Podemos Juan Carlos Monedero for charging a commission. “That’s what they tell me is happening, I haven’t seen it (…) it’s rumored, it’s rumored in the game,” Calvente said. He also denounced irregularities in the ‘solidarity fund’, explaining that he knew about it from “comments and rumors at the level of militancy.” He also pointed to the reform of the party’s headquarters on Francisco Villaespesa street in Madrid. To his statements were added those of other former workers and members of the party: the lawyer Mónica Carmona, the former escort of Irene Montero and the former senator of the party Celia Cánovas. The first maintained a dispute with the party after they cut their day in half, the second had been fired in 2019 and the third had maintained an open confrontation with the party a year earlier and accusing, for example, Irene Montero of “nepotism”.

These testimonies were joined by the popular accusations of the case while the Prosecutor’s Office was asking for the progressive closure of the open pieces. In August 2020, the judge accepted Vox as a popular accusation in the case. A few months earlier, the far-right party had failed reporting similar events in the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and used that complaint failed to apply for admission in the Neurona case. She also joined the list of popular accusations in the Pro Lege case, a self-styled association of ‘”European jurists” whose only known visible face is the lawyer Carolina Mata who, as reported by InfoLibredeclared herself close to the Popular Party, and that she has promoted the accusation in cases against politicians, personalities and progressive parties.

Each of these statements by Calvente was transformed into a legal case with accusations throughout the organization chart of Podemos, then led by Pablo Iglesias and today by the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra. His financial manager Daniel de Frutos, his then communication director Juan Manuel del Olmo and even Juan Carlos Monedero, one of the party’s founders, were implicated. Two years later, only one line of investigation survives in the absence of the judge receiving the latest reports and deciding if it should be brought to trial: what the party paid to the consulting firm Neurona for work for the 2019 election campaign, if the work was performed and if the money got where it needed to go.

The judge has already rejected Vox and Pro Lege’s request to prolong the case and will have to decide in the coming months whether to send the case to trial or issue a new file. For now, it has the testimony of several Neurona workers who have affirmed that all payments correspond to work actually carried out. Also with those of dozens of witnesses who remember having worked with Neurona personnel in the campaign. Recently, the prosecutor Lorena Álvarez has written in a report that there is no evidence of “the existence of a simulated contract” and that it only remains to clarify “the value of the work carried out and if there is an excess in payment.” A letter in which, however, she did not close the door to the case being brought to trial.

The rest of the ramifications of the Neurona case opened by the judge –and, on occasions, reopened by the Provincial Court of Madrid– have ended up in the archive. The first order in this regard came in October 2020, when the judge sent Calvente’s accusations against the Podemos contracts in 2019 with the Portuguese consulting firm ADB Europa, which even had the endorsement of the Court of Auditors, to the drawer. “There is no other way than to conclude that there is no rational evidence proving that these contracts are simulated contracts,” Judge Escalonilla said.

The second file arrived a few months later in the branch that investigated possible irregularities in the reform of the headquarters of the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood of Madrid that Podemos undertook in 2019. Calvente went so far as to affirm that the budget had been illegally inflated and that the tender had been simulated. The judge, in January 2021, filed the case: there was no “distraction of money” for “payments or works of others”.

The same thing happened with the separate piece that investigated the origin and destination of the donations that public officials from Podemos made to the Impulsa Project, managed by the Fundación Instituto 25 de Mayo para la Democracia, throughout 2016. The party presented fifty donation certificates from that foundation to various associations for different social causes and the judge opted for the file. The complaint about the alleged bonuses received by the leaders of the political party also ended up in the file in March 2021. Both Calvente and Carmona denounced that the payrolls of some senior party officials had irregular salary supplements. Judge Juan José Escalonilla understood that they were supplements approved by the party’s Coordination Council and that the expenses that went to the political party were “approved in their respective areas.”

One of the derivatives of the case that more headlines and more judicial comings and goings starred in was that of the solidarity box of Podemos, baptized by the accusations as a ‘box B’ that finally did not exist. In January of this year, the Provincial Court of Madrid firmly certified that there were no opaque outflows of money from the party’s Salary Fund to an association called ‘404’, as former senator Celia Cánovas denounced, among others. “There is no evidence of the existence of distraction of the funds received by the Podemos party directed at their leaders,” said the Madrid Court, forcefully.

The last file order, still appealable before the Provincial Court, has to do with an accusation arising from a report by Mónica Carmona sent to the courts. The lawyer affirmed that the marriage formed by Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero had irregularly used a public official, Teresa Arévalo, as a nanny for her young daughter. The judge has kept this line of investigation open for more than a year and has even investigated the possibility that more political collaborators had used a second worker, Gara Santana, also as a nanny. A judge even wrote to Irene Montero, Minister of Equality, through the Congress Police Station so that she would have proof of the opening of the criminal process.

Behind this procedure, which has recently been archived in the absence of any evidence, was Mónica Carmona’s allegation of having received an anonymous complaint uncovering this irregular use of a party employee as her daughter’s nanny. Subsequently, the case grew fat when Montero’s former escort, who sued the minister after her dismissal, also denounced that she was used as a “gofer” and alleged that she had suffered humiliating treatment. She was the one who, before the judge, pointed to Santana as another supposedly irregular nanny.

The judge was clear in his order: “From the investigative steps carried out, not only is it not proven that Teresa Arévalo or Gara Santana were in charge of caring for the children of Irene Montero and Pablo Iglesias, but it is even not proven that any person, alien to the parents themselves, has been in charge of their care during the time they performed functions paid by the Podemos political party or paid by the public treasury”.

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