The National Court has sentenced this Friday to eight years in jail the president of the Association of Banking Services Users (Ausbanc), Luis Pineda, and four years to the general secretary of the pseudo-union Manos Limpias, Miguel Bernad, for extorting banking entities for five years and companies to be paid in exchange for not taking legal action against them or launching discrediting campaigns against them. Although this ruling inflicts a severe blow to the two defendants, it falls far short of the claims of the Prosecutor’s Office, which requested a sentence of more than 118 years in prison for Pineda and more than 24 years for Bernad.
This 195-page resolution, signed by the magistrates of the Fourth Section of the Criminal Chamber, marks a turning point in investigations that broke out in 2016, when Operation Nelson was activated and the leaders of Ausbanc and Clean hands. Since then, Pineda has defended her innocence. In fact, when he was released in 2019 after three years in preventive detention, he accused the Prosecutor’s Office of lying and falsifying evidence against him. And he even presented himself as the victim of a huge plot concocted by BBVA and Commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, whom the financial institution would have paid to prepare a report that led to his arrest.
However, the account given by the judges is very different. The Audiencia Nacional draws a complex plot driven by Pineda’s “profit motive”, who is at the top. He founded Ausbanc in 1986 with the aim of “obtaining monetary sums” and, for this, he devised an extortion network that, while presenting lawsuits against its victims, urged agreements for the out-of-court settlement of conflicts. A two-way game to get “an economic benefit”, underline the magistrates, who imposed five years in prison for a continuing crime of extortion and another three for fraud.
For his part, the conviction of Bernard, who began to collaborate with the president of Ausbanc in 2012, is sentenced to three years in prison for a crime of extortion in a degree of necessary cooperation and another year for the same crime in a degree of attempt. The Chamber also imposes one year in prison on Ángel Garay, attached to the Presidency of Ausbanc; and six months to María Mateos, director of the legal department, both considered accomplices.
On the contrary, the Hearing acquits the other six defendants (the lawyer of Clean Hands Virginia López Negrete and the directors of Ausbanc Alfonso Solé Gil, María Teresa Cuadrado, María Isabel Medrano, Rosa Aparicio and Luis María Jordana) of all the crimes of the who were accused: that is, criminal organization, extortion, false report, threats, fraud, money laundering and unfair administration.
The exercise of lawsuits against the victims, say the judges, was a mere instrument for the entities to access the economic claims formalized through advertising agreements or other formulas. In the event that they agreed to sign it, even when the process was initiated or followed by the lawyers of the territorial delegations, any subsequent claim was abandoned.
If the circumstances arose that the entities did not comply with the economic requirements generally made by Pineda – either because the advertising agreement involved an excessive outlay or because the legal one was unaffordable – it could lead to a negative reputational repercussion of a different nature, either through of news publications that did not respond to reality or due to the “hyperbolic diffusion” of an isolated event in the entity in question, even with the staging of demonstrations at the door of the bank headquarters.
The campaigns to attack the brand or its managers were modulated according to whether they finally gave in to their economic claims, signing the agreements or resuming those that had been terminated.
The ruling indicates that the payments made were masked, either as advertising in Ausbanc magazines, whose copies were distributed free of charge except for 2% that were sold, or as “market studies” prepared by the entity with the complaints. and consumer complaints and reviews of court decisions, either through sponsorships and other events.
The Court explains that the relationship between Luis Pineda and Miguel Bernad began at the end of 2012 and lasted until 2016, when it was terminated due to the judicial procedure that is now being prosecuted. According to the Chamber, as Ausbanc Consumption took over the action in the civil order against banking entities, Pineda warned that another way to obtain copious sums of money was through criminal proceedings. To do this, he established the apparent formula of collaboration with Clean Hands which, as a popular accusation, urged or appeared in different proceedings with great media coverage.
“With this, in exchange for supporting Ausbanc with funds to Clean Hands, which lived largely on free contributions, Miguel Bernad gave the defendant Pineda entrance to appear in criminal proceedings with the exclusive idea of requesting the investigated sums of money to increase the own coffers and the Ausbanc Group in exchange for urging their disimputation or departing from the procedure, said procedure being shared by both, as well as being launched by both, “says the sentence.