On Friday last week, the Spanish premier was assuring anyone in Brussels who might have been listening that he fully respected judicial decisions (Spanish ones) with regard to corruption allegations. Two days later, Mariano Rajoy was in Murcia, addressing a Partido Popular gathering. He reiterated his respect for the judiciary, adding that he had not liked "some things" that had occurred but downplaying the level of corruption. There had been a "few small incidents".
I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories but I am a great believer in the power of coincidence. "Qué casualidad", therefore, when on Monday Murcia found itself at the centre of a series of raids and arrests which threaten to outdo even the "caso Gürtel" in terms of scale and reach. Gürtel, thus named because the German for belt has been used instead of the Spanish "correa", floated to the surface in early 2009. It refers to a businessman, Francisco Correa, and his links to Partido Popular politicians. Its reach has embraced, in most direct terms, the Valencia region and the Madrid community, but its tentacles have spread wider - to the Balearics, for example - and its sheer complexity has found the PP further dragged into the net, because of possible links to the discredited former PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas. It has been estimated that investigations related to Gürtel have shown that 120 million euros of public money have been somehow "lost". The investigations drag on and on, and they had been started by Baltasar Garzón, the high-profile judge who was an exposer of corruption and an attempted exposer of Franco's war crimes. With the help of a good deal of pressure from PP sources, Garzón was disqualified as a judge. His alleged breaching of the Amnesty Law and so therefore the moratorium on investigating offences committed during the Franco regime was the excuse for his disqualification, but it has been argued that Gürtel was the real reason. So much for the judiciary, eh?
Gürtel is one of Mariano's "few small incidents". Another is the whole Bárcenas affair and the supposed existence of separate accounts through which leading PP politicians and businesspeople received payments in black, one of those politicians - or so the ledger evidence implies - being Mariano. Little has been heard of Bárcenas over the past few months. The judiciary must be hard at work and receiving the full respect of the Spanish premier, his government and his party.
Another "small incident" arose not so long ago, even if its origins are at least fifteen years old. This is the Caja Madrid affair, one that I wrote about recently. It has to do with payments to businesspeople and to politicians (for the most part from the PP) via a so-called black card, a credit card that wasn't a credit card because the credit was never repaid. It was trousered, spent on lavish meals, hotel stays, shopping trips and the amounts spent were not declared. At the centre of this storm is Rodrigo Rato, former president of the bank and an old chum (now un-chummed) of ... Mariano Rajoy.
Presumably, Rajoy had got no wind of the storm that was to break the day after he had spoken in Murcia. Consequently, and if nothing else, he has been made to look pretty foolish. Heaven knows how much public money "Operación Púnica" might find to have been lost, but it could well outstrip Gürtel, and already the investigation net has spread very much further than Gürtel originally did. Madrid, León, Valencia and Murcia; that is a geographical reach which is astonishing in its sheer distance alone. Where else might the investigators look?
It is fair to say that there are non-PP people implicated in Púnica, but it is the PP which is at its epicentre, typified by Francisco Granados, a one-time number two in Madrid and the holder of two Swiss bank accounts. For Rajoy, Púnica is a calamity. That startled and fearful expression he betrays when speaking to camera will now be more startled and fearful. He has been electrocuted by investigators placing fingers into plugs of corruption with such high potential that it becomes almost impossible to see him leaving the burns unit in any fit state to stand again as premier or even to struggle on to the next election.
And in the background there will be someone who, were he used to short-texting with English abbreviations, will be "pmsl". For Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, Púnica is an own goal of such magnitude and embarrassment that the PP may as well now troop off the pitch with their heads hung in shame, hide in the political dressing-room and hope to God the electorate don't turn so nasty that they propel Iglesias into the directors' box. Podemos couldn't have asked for anything better. The PP is Podemos's most effective recruitment agency.