The International Writers Magazine: Politics and Finance in Spain
Judges & Politics - Spain
The highs and lows of the complex world of the often currupt Spanish Judical System
Judge Mercedes Alaya
We’ve had a fair amount of international headline news during the month. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president finally passed away after a battle against cancer, they’ve changed hands at the Vatican and the new Pope comes from the land of ‘gauchos’, pundits wonder whether we’ll be hearing tangos during Sunday’s service. North Korea has opened up a new threat channel against its long standing enemy and Iraq celebrated 10 years after the invasion with a new wave of violence. The Middle East as a whole continues to increase our headaches whilst the West looks on with its hands tied; as usual. On the economic front, Cyprus is in trouble and has just received a standard pack bail out worth 10 Billion Euros, but Germany imposed harsh penalties that have spooked many in the Euro zone, taxing basic savings accounts above the hundred thousand Euro level in order to pay back the debt (possibly by as much as 40%).
The fun has just begun.
Here in Spain the situation is far from resolved although the international institutions, i.e. IMF, European Central Bank and the European Union are praising the government on its economic austerity plan no matter how hard it’s hitting the population. The citizens do not agree, but then the results were to be expected; strikes, demonstrations, sit-ins but as yet no real violence. Granddad’s pension plus a bit of silent moonlighting is still paying the bills. Regardless of the present general crisis, there is one sector that has not been discussed in the European arena and that is Spain’s judicial system. Whilst all other shenanigans are going on that hit the daily press, especially the financial sector this country is and has been faced with another long standing problem. Its legal system is in trouble. In an undisclosed way it is adding fuel to the internal woes and requires overhauling. It is archaic and still operates as if in the XIX century but what is even worse, certain judges have been playing politics and this is a no-no in modern democracy.
To start with the whole system is overburdened with work and is saturated. The time taken from the moment a case is brought before a judge to a resolution date doesn’t take months; it takes years, even for the simplest of cases. Second reason, similar to the Spanish National Health Service is that it is abused by the public. If your neighbor’s dog barks at night, take him to court. If you receive a traffic fine, appeal. There are two fast lanes however that tend to bypass the system. If you beat your wife, female companion or even your sister, chances are you’ll be in jail in two seconds flat. The other is the break-up of a marriage, common place in the Western world. It takes about 10 days to say goodbye. Nevertheless, these delays have caused a great deal of hardship but above all a certain amount of political instability.
Take two examples. One of the reasons for Catalonia, now on the road to independence, is because the Spanish courts took four years to determine whether the new statutes agreed in the Catalan parliament – that has called for an eventual breakaway from the motherland - were anti-constitutional. The Catalans went ahead and implemented them anyway. It was during the previous government’s mandate under the Socialists lead by Rodriguez Zapatero who looked the other way. Another example, although minor, occurred in my own home town. A babysitter took a small child in its pram for a morning stroll in one of the city’s main pedestrian shopping areas. A couple of municipal workers were installing the usual Christmas lights connecting the wiring to an old building when part of the balcony collapsed on top of the pram. The eight-month old was in intensive care fighting for its life. Luckily it survived. The case took four years to come to court. Apart from the normal insurance indemnity nobody was really blamed outright nor was a heavy fine imposed on the town council. The child is now with unknown mental scars that are yet to develop as it grows up. The case however is closed!
So much for the system, let’s home in on the judges and their political connections.
Remember Sr. Baltasar Garzon, the judge that took it upon himself to defy Margaret Thatcher and home in on the now deceased General Pinochet of Chile for crimes against humanity? It caused an international stir. Apart from the limelight this gentleman was and has always played politics favoring the Socialist Party. In a classic case of abuse of judicial power that caught up with him he was eventually barred from the Spanish courts. He overstepped his limits in a case against fraud that involved the Conservative Party (PP). He ordered phone tapping in a prison between a customer and his lawyer. He broke the law. He went back to law practice and notoriety by representing Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks brainchild during his first stint at seeking political asylum in the Ecuador Embassy in London despite not knowing a word of English. He’s since dropped that and the last we know is he is down in Argentina doing ‘something’ with President Mrs. Fernandez. Chasing the Falkland’s dispute perhaps?
Then we have another character, Sr. Francisco Caamaño, although not a judge was named Minister of Justice in the previous government under the Socialists . Just before being named minister, this gentleman, who is Galician, was seen demonstrating before the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with a group of nationalists chanting among other slogans for the independence of Galicia. As minister he was constantly pontificating in the media against the conservatives for whatever reason he could find. Low and behold he is now the General Secretary of the Socialist Party in the Corunna province in Galicia. His eyes are poised on the next elections in the autonomous region, parliament, deputation, and town council, whichever comes first. It’s like football matches, there is plenty to choose from.
These are just examples of individuals dealing justice that have hit the limelight as political animals. Let’s analyze a few cases bouncing around for months in the press.
I’ll start with the complicated situation in the Basque Country that is still grappling with the eternal terrorist problem of the ETA organization. To date there is no sign of their arsenal! Even before their political arm eventually won seats in town councils and the Spanish parliament, many judges were influenced by possible repercussions especially when the release of some long standing criminals were brought before parole. Two notorious cases hit the headlines and were deemed by the AVT, Terrorist Victims Association as discrimination against them. One was that of José Ignacio de Juana de Chaos, a notorious terrorist killer responsible for none other than 25 assassination attempts. He was arrested in 1987 and sentenced initially to 3000 years imprisonment. This character continued to organize attacks even whilst in prison. When certain amnesty deals were finally being discussed in 2006 the guy goes on a hunger strike, is released temporarily on ‘sick leave’ and given a final parole in 2007. As one of the most sanguine ETA murderers he has since disappeared and believed to be, together with his girlfriend ‘somewhere’ in one of the Latin American countries that continue as an ETA safe haven outside Spain.
The other was Josu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga, responsible for the murder of 2 civil guards and the kidnapping in 1996 of Jose Antonio Ortega Lara, a prison guard held secretly in a 3 square metre ‘hole’ for 532 days. The case caused nationwide outrage. He was eventually arrested in 1998 and sentenced to 178 years. However, whilst in prison he developed cancer and in 2012 the prison doctors’ diagnosis was terminal. He had a few months to live. He was released on medical grounds despite the fact that over eight hundred patients in Spanish prisons of all walks of criminality are in the same situation and still behind bars. The AVT were again out in the street screaming for true justice against terrorism. He is still around.
Now let’s go on to the real issue of judges and politics; the corruption scandals taking place in Spain as reported in my previous essays on the subject.
Suppose Princess Anne’s ex-husband was involved in laundering money for years through all kinds of methods and many of the transactions taking place had the princess’ counter signature on cheques or bank transfers. Not only her consent but a possible indirect and innocent approval from the Queen. Well this is what has been going on in the Undargarain case reported in my previous essays. Although the judges involved are discreet, we’re looking at a real problem involving Juan Carlos, the Spanish monarch. He’s just undergone a similar spine operation that my wife had back in 2005 so he’s out of action for at least 6 months. This is a blessing in disguise as, apart from the queen, his successor, Prince Felipe and his gorgeous wife Letizia are carrying the crown for the time being. Neither is involved in the scandal.
I’ll go on to the real major one that is causing a stir, again reported last month and is the mysterious accumulation of wealth – it is now 33M Euros in Swiss bank accounts - by the ex-conservative party (PP) treasurer, Luis Barcenas that is slowly pointing fingers at the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. The present judge dealing with the case is a young man by the name of Pablo Rus who is the splitting image of Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho’ although totally opposite in action. He is cool, calm, collective and right on the ball! But before going ahead with this case I must revert back to the ‘Gurtel’ one that started many months ago dealing with a sort of marketing organization that has been bribing a great deal of members of the conservative party including the ex-President of Valencia. The judge in this case is one Javier Gomez Bermudez who arrives at the courts on his flashy motorbike with ears plugged into a classical music CD player and sporting a billiard ball shaven head more like Bruce Willis in ‘Pulp Fiction’. By the way, the original judge was our friend Baltasar Garzon who was taken off it because as stated at the beginning he was ‘caught’ breaking the law precisely with one of the convicted culprits in this case, who was in prison, during a taped telephone conversation with his lawyer.
Now here comes the catch.
The Barcenas investigation has somehow tumbled on an indirect connection with the ‘Gurtel case. So, we now have judge ‘Bruce’ Bermudez (PSOE socialist supporter) fighting judge ‘Tony’ Rus (PP conservative supporter) to judge the row of culprits whilst both sides of the political media join in on the act trying to determine who is really responsible for which case involving all the implicated political characters.
Whilst the Spanish citizens have been following all these juicy shenanigans going on with interest, suddenly a rather dormant high-powered scandal that had entered the game some time back in Andalucía has now burst out into the arena as the new super star in Spanish corruption. It is the case of over one billion euros worth of public money laundering by what may be the regional Socialist (PSOE) government that has ruled over the past 30 years and the main Spanish trade unions. The swindling network is so large that it will eventually make its way into a Hollywood movie. The fraud is similar to what Richard Gere’s role in ‘Pretty Woman’ was up to. In other words buying up insolvent companies and turning them into ‘phantom’ smaller ones thus creaming off the capital. The judge in this case is a super hero late thirtyish female, Ms. Mercedes Alaya that turns up in designer jeans showing off her film star anatomy and her long flowing black hair but doesn’t hold back any punches. She’s going to go for all those evil ‘machos’ waiting in the wings to be interrogated and sentenced. She’s already sent Sr. Francisco Javier Guerrero, the ex-General Manager of the region’s Employment department straight to cell 514 and is working her way up to the top. Who knows who is next on her list!
With all this corruption and judicial upheaval going as well as the general state of the country it is obvious that the Spaniards are blowing fuses in all directions. The banking system continues to ‘dazzle’ everyone because of continuing foreclosures and a newly created ‘toxic’ bank that is overflowing with overpriced and unsold housing on its books. If we add the ever growing national turmoil created by the so called ‘preference’ shares sold as fraudulent pension schemes with literally hundreds of thousands of protesters taking over bank branches, town councils and whatever political meeting that are taking place I am not surprised if we are facing a volatile future .
I’ll wait for the updates during the following month as am sure that once Easter is over and the weather begins to ease we may have some ‘brighter’ news. Fingers crossed!
© James G. Skinner. April 2013.
Quakes All Round
Spain is still reeling over the corruption scandals. The situation is hitting at the very heart of the nation’s integrity; the ruling government on the one hand and the monarchy on the other
Three Deadly Sins in Spain
It really started in February, 2009 when the left wing newspaper ‘El Pais’ uncovered a massive network of bribery and corruption that was codenamed ‘The Gürtel Case’ that stretched across several autonomous regions, including Madrid and Valencia, governed by the conservatives.