Monday, February 25, 2013

The Last Hurrah Of Judge Castro

Iñaki Urdangarin has absolved Princess Cristina and the royal household of having had anything to do with the Instituto Nóos, save for the royal household having given him advice to cease his activities with Nóos. It would have been surprising had he suggested otherwise, but regardless of his statements in front of Judge José Castro, the public is inclined to think differently. Opinion polling indicates that an overwhelming majority believe that the princess knew what her husband was allegedly up to with Nóos. Opinion varies, depending on political party sympathies, as to whether the King knew or might even have participated in Urdangarin's alleged activities. 

What the public thinks shouldn't of course matter. Those who do matter are the actors in the Urdangarin drama. While we are now familiar with Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres, there is one actor with whom we are less familiar. The judge.

Not cowed by any fear of appearing disrespectful, Judge Castro has demanded to see the visitors book at the Zarzuela royal palace. He wants to see if the Valencian politicians Francesc Camps and Rita Barberá attended a meeting with Urdangarin at the palace to discuss contracts related to the 2004 Valencia Summit on sport. Urdangarin told the judge on Saturday that no such meeting took place.

Castro has seemingly remained immune to any pressures to back off, and this would be in keeping with his reputation. Often described as being brave, he has also been described as reckless. The two descriptions go hand in hand because they refer to what he has investigated. Urdangarin, and the proximity to the royal family, is the latest in a list that goes back to when he first took up his post in 1991. They have included the "caso Calvià", the investigation into the buying of political advantage by the Partido Popular, and the "caso túnel de Sóller". Though the accused in this latter case were cleared, it was enough to bring about the downfall of one of the accused, the grandfather of Balearics politics, the first president of the islands, the PP's Gabriel Cañellas.

More recently, Castro has been investigating corruption cases involving the Unió Mallorquina party and of course another former PP president, Jaume Matas. There is something of a theme with the various cases over the years, and it is the PP. Matas has been so convinced of some sort of bias that he has said that Castro has a "personal and political phobia" towards him.

Castro can't be accused of bias against one political body. It is more a case that he has locked horns with a Mallorcan establishment, both political and societal. The PP has, since autonomy, been the dominant political presence. Both the PP and the now defunct UM have been synonymous with certain interests in local society, business ones in particular, in ways that other parties haven't been. And for Castro, the confrontation with establishment has moved to a different level, one embodied by Iñaki Urdangarin.

Investigating judges such as José Castro do face accusations of bias. The most famous of Spanish judges, Baltasar Garzón, fell foul of opponents in the PP as well of rivals within the judiciary. His allegiance to PSOE was no secret. Unlike Garzón though, Castro does not court publicity. It is why little is really known about him, other than a reputation for being fearless and for appearing grumpy. He has acquired a further reputation, one among some Mallorcans for having become a hero of the people. Matas and Urdangarin are, for these Mallorcans, joint holders of the status of public enemy number one, and Castro is their pursuer.

Attitudes towards those facing allegations do, however, get influenced by what prosecutors and the judge say and which becomes public knowledge. Castro's statement before Urdangarin's latest court appearance that Nóos was a premeditated act of criminality would only have served to reinforce negative attitudes towards Urdangarin. Such a statement might be perceived as evidence of partiality, but then an investigating judge is not like a judge in an English court.  

It has been suggested that the Urdangarin affair might be spun out so long that Judge Castro retires. He is now 66, but it is understood that he wants to carry on until he is 70. Even by the slow standards of Spanish justice, four years are a long time. Too long for Castro? The "caso Nóos" is one of the last hurrahs for this scourge of the establishment. Will it prove to be the defining investigation by which José Castro will be remembered? Cañellas was let off but he had to resign. Castro's Nóos noose has far bigger game to hunt.

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