Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Tailor Is Still Not Rich, But My Treasurer Is Loaded

It might seem like overkill to have yet another post on the Operación Gürtel corruption case, but so much is going on that it's hard to do it all justice in a single post. So let's start with some prison humour. Francisco Correa, the man at the heart of the scandal, is currently in prison while the investigation into his business dealings continues. He recently appealed for release on the grounds of - wait for it - claustrophobia. The investigating judge turned this down on the reasonable enough grounds that whilst his problem prevented him from getting into a lift, it didn't seem serious enough to prevent him from getting on a plane and leaving the country. Correa was subsequently reported as asking what he was doing in a place where he was surrounded by delinquents! This probably provoked as much laughter inside the prison as it did outside.

Meanwhile in Valencia the case against the regional president Francisco Camps also continues and is set to go to trial. Camps has lodged an appeal with the overwhelmingly conservative supreme court in Valencia and still seems confident that the case will not make it to court; although his predictions so far on what would happen have not been very accurate. The tribunal that will hear his appeal is presided over by a judge whose relationship with Camps is so close that the latter famously claimed that friendship was not a sufficient word to describe it. In spite of this, the judge concerned appears to feel no need to stand down from hearing the case. The odd thing about the Valencian proceedings is that those accused of receiving the gifts could go on trial, but those said to have provided them will not. The Valencian judiciary is steering well clear of investigating the multiple contracts awarded to Correa's band by the regional government.

Staying close to the beach, the Mayor of Valencia - Rita Barberá - has also become involved in the scandal. She is the one who came out with the very Berlusconiano argument that if the law prevents a politician from receiving gifts then the only solution is to change the law. Then El País reported the allegation that she had also received gifts of expensive handbags from those involved in Gürtel. Barberá replied by claiming that it was all just an attempt to divert attention from the plight of the unemployed, many of whom currently have plentiful time to try and work out just how long they could survive on the price of a single one of Rita's favourite Louis Vuitton bags.

Turning our attention to an important city that still doesn't have a playa, the tailor who provided key evidence on the expensive suits provided to Camps and associates got his job back. José Tomás was sacked by his employer immediately after testifying before Baltasar Garzón about who had paid for all those clothes, no off the peg rubbish involved here. A tribunal heard his case under Spain's appallingly anachronistic legislation that stops people from being sacked for leaving important people in embarrassing situations. Faced with the prospect of paying substantial compensation, the employer finally reinstated Tomás but has done it in such a way that he is clearly trying to force the tailor to leave his job voluntarily.

Just a short walk down the road from the expensive clothes shops of the Barrio de Salamanca we find the headquarters of the Partido Popular, where there is an immediate vacancy for anyone with experience in handling the financial affairs of a political party. The PP's treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, yesterday announced that he was temporarily standing down from his job. This followed weeks of growing pressure on him, and his declaration before the investigating judge in Madrid a few days ago. As soon as I heard the news of his resignation I suspected that this was because he knew that the judge was about to request the lifting of his parliamentary immunity as a member of the Spanish Senate. Sure enough, today we got the confirmation, although the announcement coincided with the final session of the Senate before they go off for a well deserved summer break. They'll deal with this troublesome matter in September.

Anyone still here? There's more. The Supreme Court is handily located just across the road from the PP headquarters. Bárcenas clearly didn't convince the judge about the origin of his very extensive fortune, and investigations are continuing with Hacienda taking a keen interest; times are hard for the tax collectors. Perhaps even worse, Bárcenas took the very bold step of naming names as alternative candidates for those answering to the initials of LB or the nickname of "Luis el cabrón". He named a director of a construction company who shares these initials and whose most likely response is going to be another lawsuit against Mr Bárcenas. The case against Bárcenas for corruption rests on a single payment, all the others he is claimed to have received from Correa come from before his nomination as a senator. As treasurer of the PP he could trouser as many bribes as he likes, but as a senator it's a different matter. Even so, his tax "oversights" could perhaps help to reduce Spain's budget deficit.

The whole case has had the PP reeling in recent weeks, with growing internal criticism of Mariano Rajoy for letting Bárcenas continue in his post. The party at one point was reduced to issuing its political messages by SMS, with the sole aim of avoiding appearances by its leaders in places where journalists might ask uncomfortable questions. So then came the counter attack, under the control of none other than Federico Trillo. This is the man who organised the initial counter offensive against judge Baltasar Garzón, who had set the now enormous snowball rolling down the hill. Trillo and the PP launched a battery of appeals against Garzón and claimed that he was responsible for the extensive leaking of crucial evidence. All of these were rejected, Garzón no longer has anything to do with the case and even Trillo has had to reluctantly acknowledge that the judge was not responsible for the press reports. So now they have turned their fire on the police investigating the case, trying to mix in claims that it is all coordinated by the interior minister and friendly media. Trillo doesn't do very well when it comes to identifications, but the aim in any case is to deflect attention and present the PP as victim of an evil conspiracy.

Phew. That's more or less it for now, but if things carry on this way I may have to resort to a special Gürtel episode of the smash hit series Fideos en la Boca as an attempt to explain it all.


Pueblo girl said...

Am hugely enjoying the daily developments, although the special commission on spying was a (predictable) disappointment, and not, so far, directly related to Gurtel. Go on, give it a try, would love to see your "guion".

Graeme said...

Well the spying scandal is back with a bang this week, regardless of the commission of no investigation. We'll have to see how things develop before deciding whether it really has full telenovela potential.