Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Gürtel....The Weight Of The Evidence Counts

If you judge the solidity of a legal accusation by the weight of the documentary evidence supporting it, then the Gürtel corruption case has to be seen as one of the best. The lifting of secrecy on virtually all of the judicial investigation in Madrid has left us with another 50,000 pages of evidence to add to the 17,000 that were already released a few months ago. Even allowing for the fact that legal documents tend to use 500 words to say what most of us can explain with 100, that's still an impressive dust cloud that has to be shifted when someone gets Gürtel landing on their desk. Perhaps thats why they adopted the relatively ecological strategy of making it available for download rather than posting it to the affected parties.

One thing is for sure, the legal rejection of some of the recordings made between lawyers and the accused has not affected the substance of the case, as some may have hoped. There is a wealth of evidence from other sources that supports the key accusations. The press coverage so far has tended to focus on the accusations against the Partido Popular national treasurer and member of the Senate, Luis Bárcenas. The prosecution claims that there is no room for doubt about him being the person identified in various ways in the documentation concerning the case. He is said to have received at least €1.3 million from the organisers of the ring and that both he and his wife possess significant wealth which has not been declared or justified to the tax authorities. Apart from Bárcenas there have been further revelations about the lavish gifts received by PP politicians in Madrid and Valencia.

The Partido Popular has adopted a strategy of attempting to minimise any impact from the latest revelations. Before anyone had time to actually read any significant part of the released documentation, the party was already claiming that there was nothing new in the prosecution case. Now from the point of view of the PP this may be true, because they are sitting on all of the contracts that were handed out to the Gürtel accused by the party and the administrations they control. It can be argued that they must know exactly what has been going on, probably more than anyone else except the accused themselves. The other part of their political strategy is to try and claim that the PP is an innocent victim of a bunch of "chorizos" who have taken advantage of the party. For all the world as if no PP politicians were accused of anything! Or as if the influence of the key figures amongst the accused did not reach into the highest echelons of the party.

Above all the PP has been at pains to try and suggest that there are no indications of illicit party funding in the prosecution case. Now whilst it's true that there is no demonstrated intention at national level to hide dubious party funding, it's quite clear that there are very strong grounds for suspicion of this in both Madrid and Valencia. In Madrid the case has brought together the Gürtel scandal and the murky use of the aptly named Fundescam foundation which appears to have been used to hide the origin of much of the PP's electoral spending in the region. Much is made by the PP's defenders of how Esperanza Aguirre has acted to remove those accused from their positions, but as I pointed out last week this is really little more than an attempt to put a bit of distance between her administration and Gürtel. Because the investigation makes clear that almost of those multiple contracts awarded "a dedo" in Madrid to Gürtel companies blatantly broke the rules on the awarding of public contracts and senior members of Aguirre's administration are said to have benefitted handsomely from this.

In Valencia the accusation is that companies which subsequently received contracts from the regional government very generously decided to pay some of the PP's the Gürtel run companies. Given the evident reluctance of Valencian judges to pursue corruption charges against their friends in the regional government it's quite possible that little will come of this strand of the investigation. But it has been documented for posterity. The outcome may depend on whether the Supreme Court rejects the absolution of Valencian president Francisco Camps.

Then there is the case of Bárcenas. You have to remember that the judge investigating in Madrid will not be putting Bárcenas on trial, as a member of the Senate he can only be tried by the Supreme Court and that particular part of the case is still covered by secrecy. It's possible that Bárcenas may end up "only" being accused of tax fraud, because accepting money in return for favours as treasurer of a political party is not criminal behaviour. But then the still unanswered question is why he would get so much money from Correa and company; in return for what? If he has really been paid what the judge alleges, then it seems a lot for the Gürtel companies to give just to get a few contracts for organising party meetings.

Lastly there is the additional question of why Bárcenas enjoys such special protection from the PP, including the paying of his defence lawyer? We haven't got to the root of everything yet and it's revealing that the PP thinks that protecting someone who may have committed such significant fraud is a normal thing to do. Mariano Rajoy has gone missing, but not in action; that's not his style. Not a word has been heard from the PP leader who only a couple of days ago was promising swift action against any (new) cases of corruption in the PP.

No comments: