December 30, 2015 / 6:44 PM / 2 years ago

Catalonia's Pujol charged with money laundering for hiding fortune

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Catalonia's former president Jordi Pujol (L), who has been accused of tax fraud, arrives to testify at a court with his wife Marta Ferrusola in Barcelona, January 27, 2015.Albert Gea

MADRID (Reuters) - The former president of Catalonia, one of the most prominent political figures of democratic Spain, has been charged with money laundering as part of a long-running investigation into his hidden bank accounts.

Spain's High Court said on Wednesday it has called Jordi Pujol and his wife to testify as formal suspects in February in a tax fraud and money laundering case.

Pujol, president of the wealthy northeastern region for 23 years, said last year that he had kept money undeclared outside Spain for over three decades after inheriting it from his father. The admission shocked Spain and particularly Catalonia just as an independence movement picked up steam.

Supporters of Catalan secession had seen the region as free of the corruption dogging the rest of Spain, where scandals have engulfed bankers, politicians and members of the royal family.

Pujol, 85, has not said how much was kept from tax authorities. But on Wednesday an investigating magistrate with the High Court said in a ruling that there was evidence Pujol and members of his family had moved multi-million euro sums between hidden bank accounts in countries such as Andorra.

"(This) reveals the existence of a pattern of behavior perpetuated by members of the family for years," the magistrate said in the written ruling.

The case has not yet gone to trial. In Spain magistrates can open cases and charge suspects in preliminary investigations as they weigh up whether there are grounds to pursue the allegations.

Pujol founded one of Catalonia's most prominent political parties, Convergencia i Unio (CiU), which later endorsed a push for independence under his successor Artur Mas.

Reporting by Angus Berwick, Editing by Sarah White/Ruth Pitchford

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