The court of instruction number 15 of Madrid has opened proceedings against the former president of the State Society of Industrial Participations (SEPI), Bartolomé Lora, and the body’s board of directors after a complaint by Manos Limpias for alleged embezzlement in the Plus Ultra airline rescue. “The denounced facts suggest the possible existence of a criminal offense,” says Magistrate Esperanza Collazos in an order dated April 8. Thus, proceedings are opened to 15 senior government officials.
The investigation is still in an initial phase and the judge has not called anyone to testify as investigated or witness. Although it has already requested documentation to advance in the process. Sources close to the managing council of the rescue fund managed by SEPI assure EL PAÍS that they are at the disposal of justice. “Full willingness to collaborate with the Justice and, therefore, to act with the utmost transparency and rigor in the face of possible requirements aimed at clarifying any type of doubts that may arise in relation to this procedure,” these sources explain.
The process began after the complaint presented by Miguel Bernard, general secretary of Manos Limpias, a union that exercised the popular accusation in the case Nóos, which is being tried in turn in the National Court in the case on Ausbanc.
Among the members of the SEPI council are four secretaries of State (Esperanza Casteleiro, Defense; Inés María Bardón, Treasury; Sara Aagesen, Energy; and Ana de la Cueva, Economy and Business Support). Also taking part are the Secretary General for Industry and Small and Medium Enterprises, Raül Blanco, the director of the cabinet of the first vice president of the Government, María Isabel Valldecabres, and the director of the cabinet of the Minister of Finance, Carlos Moreno.
The SEPI bailout was for an amount of 53 million euros and was the second to an airline after the one previously granted to Air Europa. But the situation between the two is very different: doubts about Plus Ultra’s financial situation arise because the company has always been in the red since its foundation in 2011, although it began operating in 2016. Since then, it has had accumulated losses of 10 , 6 million euros and in 2019, the last fiscal year for which it presented accounts in the Mercantile Registry, it had a negative result of 2.1 million euros. In addition, its market share in the sector is irrelevant: it operated 823 flights at Spanish airports in 2019, transporting 156,139 passengers, which places it in 166th place of the airlines operating in the country, with less than 0.1% quota.
The rescue resulted in criticism from other airlines and the political opposition. Parties such as the PP requested the creation of an investigative commission in the Congress of Deputies to put the details of the operation black on white. A request that they defended because the company is not strategic and, in addition, it has a great weight of Venezuelan and Panamanian capital.
The environment of the management council insists that the operation met all the requirements established by the solvency support fund and European regulations. “This is not a non-refundable grant. Plus Ultra has agreed to return the loans received, which comply with the provisions of community regulations to help Spanish companies that are suffering the effects of covid-19 ″, these sources maintain, adding that the airline is a strategic company for hub Madrid-Barajas.
On the part of economic viability, they assure that it was not a company in crisis at the end of 2019. “It was not in the process of dissolution, it had not requested a declaration of voluntary bankruptcy and it fully complied with the debt / capital ratios”, sources of the management council, which justify the public injection due to the sharp drop in the firm’s income during the coronavirus pandemic.
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