Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rajoy And The Bárcenas Revelations

Let's just posit a hypothetical situation. "The Guardian" newspaper runs a sensational story which purports to reveal information from ledgers controlled by a treasurer for the Conservative Party. These ledgers are not the official accounts. They are separate accounts. They show receipts from various businesses and payments to various individuals, including members of the party. These payments are not legal. One of the recipients identified in the story and in copies of what are said to be ledgers is David Cameron.

This treasurer is then arrested and ultimately sent to prison with an extremely high bail running into many millions which he almost certainly cannot pay. He can expect to wait months, perhaps years to come to trial on matters not related directly to "The Guardian" story. He is suspected of major tax fraud of his own.

Some months after "The Guardian" runs its story, "The Telegraph" runs a similar story. Its editor speaks to this treasurer just prior to his going into prison and publishes the contents of this interview along with copies of ledgers of allegedly illegal payments, including those to David Cameron when he held a more junior post in the Conservative Party.

The use of "The Guardian" and "The Telegraph" in this hypothetical situation is relevant to what has happened in Spain. One is a newspaper which leans to the left, one is a paper which leans to the right. Political sympathies do not, however, prevent "The Telegraph" from taking forward what "The Guardian" had initiated some months before.

For "The Guardian" and "The Telegraph", read "El País" and "El Mundo". For the unnamed treasurer in the hypothetical story, read Luis Bárcenas. For David Cameron, read Mariano Rajoy. The hypothetical is not hypothetical. It is reality.

But to continue with the hypothetical, what do you think would happen if the story in the British press was in fact true; that David Cameron's name had appeared in ledgers of allegedly illegal payments? Not just in "The Guardian", which might be considered less sympathetic to Cameron, but also in "The Telegraph", which could be considered to be generally sympathetic. Two major reports, some months apart, revealing the same type of information.

One thing is for certain. The matter would be a massive scandal. It would be all over the media. It would be the only matter which mattered. Presumptions of innocence of course, but could Cameron stay in his position? Or would he feel compelled to step down or be forced to step down?

It is impossible to say for certain, because this is only an hypothesis, but one would think that he would resign. His position would surely become untenable, so great would be the clamour, so massive would be the coverage.

There again, maybe he wouldn't resign, because the Conservative Party categorically denies that these separate ledgers form part of its accounting. It denies that it has ever paid "bonuses" or monthly salaries without complying with tax requirements. It implies (more than implies) that these ledgers are made up. It threatens to sue "The Guardian" for the original story, sue any other part of the media which repeats the accusations and sue the treasurer as well, and he, the treasurer, initially denies that he is in fact the author of the ledgers. When "The Telegraph" in essence repeats the original allegations, what can the party do but continue to deny that the ledgers are false?

But people - the public, other politicians and the media - would be highly suspicious. Firstly "The Guardian", now "The Telegraph". And one question that many would ask is why someone would go to such lengths to produce supposedly fabricated accounts which, as writing experts suggest (the accounts are handwritten), have entries that indicate they were made not at one go but over a long period of time.

However, some analysts are not convinced that this is a clear-cut case. For starters, there is the fact that the treasurer is facing a fraud charge of his own, that it is widely thought that he feels that he has been hung out to dry by the party. What he has to say could of course be accurate, but is there some element of revenge at play? It's hard to say, but one keeps coming back to why someone would keep supposedly false accounts for such a long period of time, ones which suggest two decades of illegal payments.

But, but ... Ever more buts and what-ifs. What if "The Telegraph" has an agenda. It doesn't agree with Cameron on everything. It reflects divisions within the party. It may be sympathetic to opposing voices within the party. Who can tell? And why has it chosen to sit on its interview with the treasurer for a few weeks? Indeed, how is it that it spoke to him? What he had to say to the paper and what the paper has published could well be dynamite, but the treasurer has spoken to a newspaper. Not to a judge. Can Cameron be condemned on the basis of a newspaper's findings alone?

All the above reflects how the story has played out and is being played out through the two Spanish newspapers. A judge may now get involved. "El Mundo" has presented its findings to the Audiencia Nacional, a special high court. It would have to consider if the ledgers are true and that they show, in the case of payments allegedly made to Rajoy when he was a minister in the Aznar government, that they contravene a law of 1995 which expressly forbid additional payments to members of a government, be these payments public or private.

Rajoy, one imagines, would not step down. He didn't when "El País" first broke the story, and the latest revelations don't fundamentally move the story on, except in the sense that they are revelations. Supposedly. 

Any comments to please.

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