Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Will It Be Gürtel That Brings Garzón Down?

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has been suspended from his position today by Spain's governing judicial body, the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ). I know what some of you are thinking, that you've read this somewhere before. Well even though it already happened once in May last year, he's been suspended again today as part of the continuing campaign against him by members of the Spanish Supreme Court.

This time the suspension is related to the Gürtel corruption case. One of the three separate cases against Garzón accuses him of acting illegally by ordering recording of the conversations between the main organisers of the Gürtel ring and their lawyers. Some, but not all, of these recordings have already been ruled illegal by a Madrid court; but the Supreme Court case is aimed at Garzón as the original investigating magistrate dealing with the case. The suspension is supposed to happen once the case reaches the point where a trial can be held.

The accusation in this case is following an already familiar pattern. All attempts by Garzón to call witnesses in his defence that back his legal interpretation have been systematically denied by the Supreme Court's judges. This has happened in the case against him for investigating Francoist crimes, and also in the other case involving payments for his sabbatical in New York which are alleged to have led him to act in favour of the interests of the Banco Santander. So the fact that the judge currently dealing with the Gürtel case, the state prosecutors, and one of the three judges who heard the Madrid case on the recordings, all agree that no crime was committed is not going to be allowed to influence the determination of the Supreme Court to put Garzón in the dock for this case too.

Let's rewind a bit and note that almost a year has passed now since the original decision to suspend Garzón over the Franco case. That frenzy of activity which occurred when Garzón applied for a transfer to the International Criminal Court has long died away following the original suspension and there is still no date set for a trial which was, in principle, ready to happen any day. There is a theory concerning the management by the Supreme Court of the cases against Garzón. It could be called a conspiracy theory, but the way events are shaping up it's worth taking seriously.

The argument is that the Supremo will try to take Garzón down using the Gürtel recordings case. They may have been ready with the Civil War case for almost a year but it places the court in a difficult position. The persecution of Garzón for investigating crimes which are covered by treaties which Spain has signed has attracted significant international attention. Even though it's probably this issue more than anything else which has motivated the "get Garzón" campaign, taking it to trial will leave Spanish justice with a dreadful image problem. Meanwhile the case concerning the Banco Santander is floundering badly, the investigating judge has only managed to keep it alive by turning it into a generic fishing exercise to see if he can find anything at all irregular in Garzón's earnings.

The case concerning Gürtel may offer the judges an easier route to get their man. With a court having already ruled out some of the recordings, they can try Garzón for having breached the principle of confidentiality between the accused and their lawyers without justification. Of course to do this they have to ignore all conflicting opinions and the evidence of involvement against some of the lawyers in laundering the proceeds of the the Gürtel ring. The key part of the theory is this: having obtained one conviction against Garzón, the judge loses his position and the protection this affords. The other cases then get shunted off to a lower court where they can be allowed to wither indefinitely in the department of forgotten prosecutions. Without, of course, ever being withdrawn. No recognition of judicial error will come from the Supreme Court.

It's just a theory at the moment, but the fact that the Gürtel prosecution seems to be the only one moving forward gives it some credence. Another side effect of such a development is that the Partido Popular will of course be delighted by a sentence that they can use to try and discredit a corruption case which continues to threaten prominent figures in the party. One of the great paradoxes of Gürtel has been that so far the only legal consequences have been formal prosecution of the investigating judge and a PSOE politician threatened with a prison sentence for raising a confidential police report in the Valencian parliament which had already been published in the press! The latter has already been acquitted, but the way things are going I wouldn't put much money at the moment on Garzón being so lucky.


ejh said...

On the other hand, it's plausible that if it proves impossible to keep Gürtel under wraps indefinitely, all the shoddy things that have been done in the effort to do so will rebound against the people who did them.

To some degree the existence of widespread corruption requires people to be prepared to look the other way, and whether this is likely in a period of prolonged economic crisis is not at all clear to me.

Graeme said...

The problem is that most people probably aren't even aware of much of the judicial manoeuvres that go on in the background. Gürtel isn't going away, it shouldn't even be killed if Garzón is convicted because the bulk of the evidence doesn't depend on the recordings that were made. However, the judge dealing with it is struggling under the load of the case and will soon see it split between different courts. As for people looking the other way I hope you're right and there is a limit. There's little sign of it having been reached yet.