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Former president of Catalonia Jordi Pujol gestures after a session to elect the new president of the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona, December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino(reuters_tickers)
By Elisabeth O'Leary
MADRID (Reuters) - One of the most prominent political figures of democratic Spain will be stripped of honorary privileges after he said he hid a personal fortune from the Spanish taxman for three decades.
Catalan nationalist party Convergencia i Unio (CiU), currently leading an independence drive, said on Tuesday that 84-year-old Jordi Pujol would lose his role as founding party chairman, as well as honorary chairman. He will also be stripped of his pension and an office paid for by the party.
The scandal, at a time of deep economic hardship for many Spaniards, adds to a crisis of faith in politicians after the emergence of dozens of corruption scandals in recent years.
The news is also an embarrassment for Artur Mas, current head of the Catalan regional government, who is due to meet Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday for the first time in more than a year to discuss a deadlock over a non-binding referendum on Catalonia's status within - or beyond - Spain.
Catalonia has clashed with Madrid for scheduling a non-binding referendum on nationhood for November 9, raising hackles across the country. Madrid says the referendum is illegal and will not go ahead.
Mas, who announced that Pujol would be stripped of his titles, said the move caused him "great pain...Jordi Pujol has been my political father."
Pujol is a hugely-respected figure who became a figurehead for Catalan nationalism after running the regional government from 1989 to 2003. He got more funding for the region during his tenure at the head of the regional government in return for the parliamentary support of successive minority Madrid governments on left and right after the end of the Franco dictatorship.
He admitted on Friday he had failed to pay tax on an inherited fortune which media say may run into hundreds of millions of euros. Pujol has not provided a figure.
Local media said the scandal was made public ahead of the more embarrassing possibility of an investigation being announced by judicial authorities.
Two of Pujol's sons, also politicians, are being investigated by judges for corruption and influence-trafficking.
A crackdown down on tax fraud in an attempt to whittle down Spain's public deficit will bring another well-known face to court, it emerged on Monday, Barcelona and Argentina football-player Lionel Messi, who is accused of hiding 4.1 million euros from tax authorities.
(Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary and Raquel Castillo, Editing by Angus MacSwan)