Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Sting In The Tail Of Operación Gürtel

Baltasar Garzón finished his part of the investigation into the Operación Gürtel corruption case with accusations that raised even further the potential impact of the case. Both the Partido Popular national treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, and a PP member of the European Parliament, Gerardo Galeote, are accused by Garzón of having received huge commissions from the companies involved in the corruption ring. The case against these two is now in the hands of the prosecution service, who must decide whether it goes to the Supreme Court. This tribunal is generally regarded as being a bit less open to political influence than its regional equivalents in Madrid or Valencia who are currently dealing with the other accusations made by Garzón.

Bárcenas in particular has reacted very strongly to the accusations and claims that he can prove that all of his assets were acquired legally. He has to react this way, as the treasurer of the party an accusation against him inevitably touches the national PP leadership. There is said to be great discomfort in sectors of the PP about him remaining in such a prominent position whilst under the cloud of suspicion, but for the moment the party leader Mariano Rajoy is defending him. It makes it worse for him that he clearly belongs to the wrong faction in the PP for El Mundo's liking - meaning that they have also given substantial coverage to the charges against him as well as that carried in papers such as El País.

Meanwhile, we have had another example to delight fans of judicial independence. The head of the Madrid Supreme Court was found to have had a lunch with Francisco Granados, who is more or less number three in Esperanza Aguirre's so-called administration. It has been acknowledged that one of the topics discussed during this lunch was Gürtel. The PP insists that this situation is not the same as the now infamous hunting trip involving Garzón and former justice minister Mariano Bermejo. They are right, it isn't the same - it's significantly worse. In the Madrid case we have the general secretary of the Madrid PP (Granados) having a private lunch with the head of the court that may shortly be dealing with serious corruption charges against three close political colleagues of the general secretary. That's not so much blurring the line of the separation of powers; it's more a question of using it as a doormat at the entrance to the fine restaurant where the lunch took place. The defence that this was just a routine "working lunch" will of course be easier to assess when they produce the minutes of the meeting. Maybe they could staple a copy of the bill to the back of that document so that we can also tell how hard they worked.

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