Tag Archives: scandal

The Gürtel scandal: The missing debate

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Whilst the newspapers debate whether the Popular Party has taken advantage of the corruption money at the heart of the Gürtel scandal* (for those looking for a quick guide to the scandal please see the bottom of this post) or rather several members of the party have in fact taken advantage of the party itself to make money, there is another more pressing issue about which nothing has been said or written. It’s about the way in which contracts are agreed with private companies and the lack of transparency inherent within this part of the political system.

In these cases of corruption (see the Matas case as well) the Popular Party swings between a policy of inactive denial and political counterattack against the Socialist Party by making claims about falsified evidence or dredging up examples of corruption in the Socialist Party from the past. The government, on the other hand, tries to make stern comments about honour and keeping promises about anti-corruption policies whilst trying not to gain political leverage from the scandal by being strongly critical.

The scandal will not have an important, lasting and direct effect on politics. The voters are apathetic and uninterested; in their eyes both sets of politicians are as bad as each other. The respective cohorts of each party accept the bad behaviour of their leaders because their hate of the other party is a lot stronger than their reaction against corruption. In other words, the Gürtel scandal will not affect the stance of the voters.

What the Gürtel scandal should call into question is the way in which the regional governments work. The current system is opaque. Contracts are signed and money passed under the table without any kind of third party critique or review of the process. Presently, there are too many interests at work that are self-protecting and protected by the upper strata of society, to the detriment of the majority of the population. Costs are inflated, there are delays, and yet no questions are asked. Basically, the system is too easy to manipulate and the use of illegal methods of payment is too easily accepted by business and the public at large. How can it be that Correa can go ten years without declaring anything to the tax office? How can Camps declare his worldly goods to be half of a flat, an old car and 2,000€? We all know that it’s not true. In essence the money has been stolen from public funds and stuck in private bank accounts abroad, from which it is impossible to retrieve it. This is why the judge ordered a €200m bail charge, in an attempt to recover these funds.

The Gürtel scandal is yet another in the long list of deplorable diseases of corruption that Spain seems to suffer. It demonstrates how the oligarchic political class continues to look after its own interests using public tax money. Whilst the politicians squabble about points of law, political advantage etc, they continue to sit at the top of a system that serves their interests and not those of the people. Surely we have a right to know where our money goes? We need a full review of the system of agreements with private companies and whether we citizens are getting value for money, or simply lining the pockets of the political class.

*The Gürtel scandal in less than 270 words:

What is it?

A network of private businesses headed by Francisco Correa (supported by associates such as the sinisterly named ‘Mr Moustache’), such as Orange Market and Easy Concept, that received contracts for organising events from local and regional governments in Valencia, Madrid and Galicia. Members of these governments received expensive gifts from Correa’s company in exchange for the contracts. There is evidence of money being paid ‘under the table’ (known as black money in Spain) to avoid paying tax. The money was moved between businesses and was laundered in foreign companies and bank accounts. Correa has not declared any income to the tax office since 1999.

What has been the fallout?

Several members of the Popular Party have been suspended or forced to resign, such as three members of the Madrid Assembly and the number two of the PP in Valencia, Ricardo Costa. Luis Bárcenas, (ex-)treasurer of the PP, is currently being investigated. The reaction of the PP has been disjointed and improvised to say the least. Camps (President of the Community of Valencia) has avoided appearing in the Valencian regional assembly, Rajoy (leader of the PP) has not really commented, some members of the PP have hinted at ‘invented’ evidence and Aguirre (President of the Community of Madrid) claimed she uncovered the scandal before going back on her remarks the following day. On 6th April 2010 the 50,000 page judicial summary of the evidence was released. The scandal continues to rumble on and will continue to do so for some time yet.

And finally, why is it called the Gürtel scandal?

Gürtel is the German translation of the Spanish surname Correa (which means leash), although it can also be translated as belt.

Here’s an excellent account of the scandal.

Garzón in the dock? A turning point in Spanish democracy

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The foundation stone of the current democratic system is the Amnesty Law of 1977, a law which allowed a system to be built by concentrating on the future and trying to ignore the past. However this Amnesty law is outdated and is now creating the main sticking point with regards to the case against Garzón who is said to have not respected this law. Nevertheless it is the Amnesty Law which is preventing the true expression of democracy, freedom and human dignity and rights.

Despite what some might say, this isn’t about Garzón believing himself to be above the law. This is about finding out the truth about the past and whether or not war crimes were committed. His aggressive pushing at the boundaries of the law was applauded when it involved terrorism but now he has crossed an invisible line.

As always with law, the interpretation of individual laws is extremely important. According to the Supreme Court, Garzón has overstepped his responsibilities by declaring himself capable of pursuing the cause against crimes committed during the dictatorship. The issue is that the Amnesty Law is incompatible with both international law and the Spanish constitution (article 10.2). Is international law more important than national law? The Spanish judiciary were certainly delighted with Garzón’s pursuit of Pinochet and other international crimes. What has changed? Nothing, except the crimes being investigated happened in Spain. It’s clear that when the law is so contradictory that prevarication can be both argued and dismissed. Consequently, in essence this case is purely a political issue.

The Amnesty Law has already been criticised by the U.N. for its infringement of human rights. Such laws are useful for starting a new regime, but are not compatible with the long term development of a democracy (this is the experience of several countries in South America). What we have is an important foundation stone of the current regime which is incompatible with the development of the Spanish democracy. Something has got to give. Will it be the Amnesty Law, or will it be the democracy? What is certain is that this is a defining moment in the future course of history, memory and justice in Spain.