Sunday, February 24, 2013

Being Seen To Be Honest: Bauzá's business affairs

If you happened to be the president of the Balearics and were hopeful that bad news might be buried by events elsewhere, then an appearance in a Palma court by the King's son-in-law would be high on your wish list of competing attractions. Unfortunately for José Ramón Bauzá, though attention has indeed been focused on Iñaki Urdangarin, he is not escaping without goodly amounts of attention being paid to him. And specifically to his business affairs.

Ahead of the elections in 2011, Bauzá promised to clean up the Partido Popular. One way of doing so was to reject candidates at the elections who had been tainted by allegations of wrongdoing. It was good electoral PR, as Balearics politics had become well and truly mired in corruption cases, some of which related to former PP politicians, such as the ex-president Jaume Matas.

Anti-corruption prosecutors' interest in Matas had its origins in an investigation that was conducted during Matas's period in office between 2003 and 2007. This was the investigation into the former mayor of Andratx, Eugenio Hidalgo. He was arrested in late 2006 on charges of money-laundering and on suspicion of taking kickbacks. He was subsequently found guilty. Because the tentacles of the Hidalgo affair reached into the government, the prosecutors started digging further, and what they discovered was to lead to charges against Matas. 

There was a good deal of murkiness surrounding the early weeks of the Hidalgo investigation. One aspect of this was the allegation that documents had gone missing as the result of a tip-off given to Hidalgo. One of those who was suspected of having tipped him off was the then interior minister in the Matas government, José María Rodríguez. No charges were ever brought against Rodríguez, but he had been tainted. At the end of 2011, he became the delegate for the Balearics. Seven months later, he was forced to resign because of corruption allegations related to a different case during the Matas administration.

At the time of Rodríguez's appointment as delegate, it was suggested that the appointment was the result of a pact by which Rodríguez would not make life difficult for Bauzá. Whatever the truth of this suggestion, with Rodríguez's resignation, Bauzá's wish for clean government was itself starting to look tainted.

That wish may turn out to be a case of Bauzá having made a rod for his own back. There was much applause for his stand on not permitting candidates who had "form" even if this form had not resulted in any court sentencing, as was the case with Jaume Font, another former minister in the Matas government. Allegations against him were archived, but Bauzá's position (and the two were also political opponents) led Font to leave the party and form his own.

By making the wish for clean government such a prominent element of his administration, Bauzá opened this administration up to scrutiny, which has come from the media and from opposition parties. It hasn't helped his cause that the mayor of Inca, Rafael Torres, and the now former president (speaker) of the Balearic parliament, Pere Rotger, have, along with Rodríguez, come under investigation by Judge Castro, the same judge investigating Urdangarin. But nor has his cause been helped by statements he has made, such as one made just before Christmas last year. Referring to the ethical code that the PP wants to be established, Bauzá confirmed his commitment to this code, saying that "I don't only have to be honest, I have to be seen to be honest". By the time he made this statement, however, several months had elapsed since his honesty had been brought into question.

In June last year, representatives of what is now known as Més (formerly the PSM socialists, greens and Entesa grouping) sent a written complaint to the regional government's council in which they alleged that Bauzá had lied about his business affairs when he had registered assets on taking office as president in June 2011. Specifically, it was claimed that he had overlooked his pharmacy business in Marratxí, a wine bar called Divino and a medical and orthopedic equipment firm, Bauser International 2001 S.L. The complaint wasn't so much an implication of any wrongdoing or personal gain but one of incompatibility between these business interests and Bauzá's position as president and one of dishonesty. There was also a precedent. A one-time health minister, the PSOE politician Aina Salom, had been forced to step down when her business interest in a pharmacy came to light.

The government's own investigation of Bauzá, perhaps unsurprisingly, found no evidence of incompatibility. This didn't satisfy Biel Barceló and Fina Santiago of Més. Acting on their complaints, the public prosecutor undertook to investigate Bauzá's business affairs and then, in December, the Balearics High Court was presented with a "denuncia", one to which PSOE in the Balearics had added its name. The leftist opposition was by now united in pursuing Bauzá.

The prosecutor has since archived the complaints, saying that these did not amount to a legal infraction, but the denuncia with the court is still being considered. Meantime, however, the president has posted what are referred to as "complementary assets" that he holds on the government's website. This occurred last week, and their declaration has led, once more, to charges that the president lied in June 2011. These complementary assets are the very ones he did not disclose on taking office.

The government's spokesperson, Rafael Bosch, has said that the president didn't lie but that he has now, by posting these assets, corrected an "error or omission". The secretary-general of PSOE, Francina Armengol, is just one who is incredulous, wondering how he could forget 80% of his assets. Armengol insists that Bauzá's legitmacy to remain as president has, at the very least, been brought into question. How can the people of the Balearics be assured that he is being honest on matters which affect the people, if he has been less than honest about his business affairs?

Despite Bosch's assertion that Bauzá either made an error or an omission, there is concern among the PP as to what might happen at the High Court. It has been suggested that the president of the Council of Mallorca, Maria Salom, might step in and take over, but the PP has no obvious alternative to Bauzá.

The president may be undone by his own determination for there to be clean government. But that determination did not prevent him from making an error or an omission. In Spanish politics, especially against the background of the recent Bárcenas revelations to rock Mariano Rajoy, honesty has suddenly assumed a position centre stage. And politicians have to be seen to be honest. José Ramón Bauzá has said so.

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