Friday, October 07, 2016

Justice On Trial: Caso Gürtel

There's a major trial taking place. One into corruption. Remarkably enough, it isn't taking place in Mallorca. Even more remarkably, there aren't any Mallorcan politicians in the dock. This isn't to say, however, that there are not Mallorcan implications. One of them may involve former president Jaume Matas (when doesn't it?)

This is the first major trial to do with caso Gürtel, a corruption investigation that has taken so long and is so complicated that it defies any simple explanation. Even the name of the case isn't straightforward. Gürtel is German. It means belt. The choice of name disguised the individual at the heart of the network that spawned the case: Francisco Correa - Frank Belt, if you like.

To say that Gürtel is just about kickbacks would be way too simplistic. This was a web that was woven around the business affairs of Francisco Correa, who had long cultivated links with - who else - the Partido Popular. Gürtel covers illegal funding of the PP and the favourable awarding of contracts (different public authorities are implicated, including both the regional community of Madrid and the Madrid town hall). Money laundering, tax havens and tax evasion, bribery - they're all there.

If this sounds familiar - one can think of the Nóos trial, for instance - it is, but while Nóos and the alleged activities of the husband of Princess Cristina and his associate embraced some six million euros, that was chicken feed compared with Gürtel. The exact amounts have never accurately been established. The total has been put at as much as 120,000,000 euros.

Gürtel isn't simply (what am I saying - simply?) about massive corruption. It is a trial that has also placed the Spanish judicial system in the dock because of that system's potential for manipulation by political forces. In order to understand this, one has to go back to the origins of the investigations and who launched them. The investigating judge in 2009 - yes, that's when the legal ball started to roll - was Baltasar Garzón. He was to be suspended the following year. Not because of Gürtel but because it was argued that he had exceeded his powers in investigating war crimes committed by the Franco regime.

Garzón had his enemies in the legal profession, but he also had them in the Partido Popular. The Franco angle did somewhat obscure the motives for having him suspended. He was readmitted, only to be suspended again because he had ordered recordings of suspects and lawyers involved in Gürtel. All the while, there was the unmistakable influence of the PP.

But getting Garzón removed didn't end the investigation. Even more life was to be breathed into it when the revelations came about the so-called B accounts that had been operated by former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas (one of those now on trial). These too pointed to illegal party funding. Gürtel and Bárcenas are intimately linked.

If the PP had hoped that Gürtel would go away along with Gárzon, it was very much mistaken, and Gürtel, given its sheer scale, gave political momentum to others - Podemos most obviously. Pablo Iglesias's party and indeed the C's of Albert Rivera had corruption firmly in their sights. Yet despite this momentum and therefore the political situation that currently exists, what do we get? The trial has opened with legal challenges. They have come from defence lawyers, but giving these lawyers support is the PP. It almost beggars belief but the PP, via its lawyer, agrees that there is a list of reasons for having the whole trial process stopped in its tracks. And what might these reasons include? Baltasar Garzón. The investigating judge and those recordings.

The irregularities that surrounded Garzón were also said to have related to his having been designated as investigating judge. In other words, it is claimed that his was a political appointment (he has never disguised being sympathetic to PSOE).

So, it can be said that there were politics on both sides; that the judicial system was open to differing political influences. Where Garzón was concerned, there was probably also his own self-view. He was a celebrated judge by then, but this fame is another facet in suggesting that the judicial system is on trial. Investigating judges become famous. Mallorca has a couple of very well-known ones: José Castro, as much a people's hero as Garzón was to many, for his pursuit of Jaume Matas and Iñaki Urdangarin; Manuel Penalva, heading the investigation into Palma police corruption.

The system therefore creates celebrities out of judges, and much though they would always seek to remain impartial and within the rules, there can also be human fallibility. And political leanings are occasionally exposed. Take Juan Pedro Yllanes, now a Podemos deputy in Congress, who had originally been due to preside over Nóos.

Justice must be seen to be done. With Gürtel, whether it will or will be allowed to is another matter.

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