Last year, the former People’s Party treasurer Luis Barcenas drew more than €18,000 (£15,500) a month from Spain’s governing party. Today, he can spend no more than €80 a week at the Soto del Real prison tuck shop near Madrid, while a judge investigates a suspected slush fund out of which Barcenas allegedly paid senior politicians.
Barcenas has been sharing a cell at the prison since June, when prosecutors discovered he had €48m in Swiss bank accounts and demanded that he be remanded in custody because they deemed him a flight risk.
Soto’s watchtower looms over a motorway and cycle paths popular with Madrid residents escaping the city at weekends. The tower, of course, is there to ensure that the prison’s well-heeled inmates stay exactly where they are. They include Gerardo Diaz Ferran, the former head of Spain’s business federation, who is suspected of fraud relating to the collapse of his travel company.
Like the other 1,600 inmates, Barcenas and Diaz Ferran are entitled to bring 10kg of clothing with them, make 10 five-minute phone calls a week, and receive one weekly face-to-face visit, as well as two confidential visits a month.
Released prisoners claim to have met Barcenas inside and to have played cards with him. One former inmate proudly showed the television cameras a pair of shorts he claimed the former treasurer had given him.
Another inmate, as he walked out of the prison gates, said: “The man’s a hero, a great guy. He politely comes up to people to introduce himself. He’s the best there is.”