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Hernandez Colon Supports Campaign Finance Reforms

Garzon To Probe Secret Bank Accounts

Hernandez Colon Supports Bills That Amend Electoral Law

April 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

PONCE (AP) — On Tuesday, former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon endorsed the bills that propose to amend local political campaign finances.

"These projects constitute a cutting-edged initiative to make our candidates and political parties independent of the influence of economic power," the former governor said.

While testifying at public hearings of the Senate Government Committee at the Pontifical Catholic University in Ponce, Hernandez Colon also supported the elimination of the State Election Commission (SEC) and the establishment of an electoral court in its place but he explained this kind of change have to be in consensus with the three parties.

"I favor the creation of an Electoral Court, but it has to be based in a consensus among the parties," said Hernandez Colon. "If there is no consensus we would return to the shifting we have seen on the past," the former governor added.

The former Popular Democratic president recommended that if that consensus is not reached, the SEC should remain functional because it has proven that the voting results, as well as the voting processes, are respected and the organism’s decisions have credibility.

Meanwhile, Ponce Mayor Rafael Cordero Santiago expressed his opposition to private companies contributing financially to political campaigns.

Cordero also backed the substituting of the SEC with an electoral court made up of judges, and not politicians.

In related matters, Hernandez Colon separated himself Tuesday from the controversy that started the investigation that Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon conducted on the island on money laundering by officials of the Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria Bank.

"Moncho [Ramón Cantero Frau] surpassed Juanma [Juan Manuel Garcia Passalaqua]," Hernandez Colon said succinctly, while denying that he was behind the accusations that were made against Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Ramon Cantero Frau.

He was referring to statements in which he requested that all those implicated speak the truth about the possible violations to the Electoral Law.

Judge To Probe Secret Bank Accounts

April 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

MADRID, Spain (AP) -- Spain's top investigating magistrate on Tuesday took over an inquiry into secret offshore accounts once held by the country's second-largest bank -- raising the prospect of criminal charges.

Judge Baltasar Garzon asked Spain's central bank to suspend its administrative investigation, in which the only possible penalties were fines, as he shifted the case to the judicial realm at the request of anticorruption prosecutors.

In a 10-page writ, Garzon said there was evidence of misappropriation and fraud by Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in a network of off-the-books accounts that existed for more than a decade and held some $200 million when they were closed in 2000.

Spanish news reports have said the accounts were used to influence politicians, grease business deals and pay off armed Basque separatists. About $20 million of it was used to set up pension funds for a select group of BBVA board members.

The bank said last week that 16 current and former executives were also under investigation by the central Bank of Spain.

The offshore accounts were reportedly held in Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands, the isle of Jersey and elsewhere for more than a decade until 2000, when the bank reported the money as extraordinary profits and closed the accounts.

They had been opened as far back as 1987 by Banco de Vizcaya, which merged with Banco de Bilbao in 1988. The resulting entity, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, merged with Argentaria in 1999.

The income held in the accounts was mainly profits from buying and selling stock.

For more than two years Garzon has also been investigating alleged tax evasion by a BBVA subsidiary called BBVA Privanza, which specialized in managing large portfolios. And in recent weeks he has been looking into alleged money laundering by BBVA in Puerto Rico and Jersey.

Garzon, who works out of the National Court, is best known for his failed bid in 1999 to put former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on trial in Spain for human rights abuses in his own country.

Garzon rarely handles financial misdealings. But the National Court's remit includes affairs seen as affecting Spain as a whole, and BBVA is so large, with thousands of branches and more than $262 billion in assets, that Garzon has agreed to taken on the case, legal sources said.

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