Saturday, November 24, 2012

Despite All The Noise They're Closer Than You Think

The latter stages of the campaign for tomorrow's Catalan regional elections haven't just been about the cynical attempts by Artur Mas to convert nationalist sentiment into an overall majority for his party, Convergència i Unió (CiU). Corruption has become one of the main issues following a report by El Mundo claiming that senior figures in CiU have millions of euros carefully stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. Mas and CiU have continued to play the nationalist card by claiming that any such reports are just the evil work of Madrid based Spanish centralists. 

Now my views on El Mundo's journalistic standards have, I think, been fairly clearly expressed in my blogging over the last few years. The paper has a long history of manipulating information and sources, so it should always be a standard procedure to try and get hold of the original documentation. Yesterday, in the case of the corruption allegations we got that opportunity as a police union released the document which El Mundo used for its story. In reality, the issue of the Swiss accounts is not the core of the document, which is more about the scandal surrounding Barcelona's Palau de la Música Catalana. 

Lovely building the Palau, I went to a concert there a few months ago. Not so lovely is the the way in which the rehabilitation of the historic building was used as the cover for a massive corruption scandal which goes to the heart of the Catalan political establishment. The case concerns the paying of huge commissions by major companies in return for public contracts, with the governing bodies of the Palau being used to distribute the proceeds between individuals and organisations closely linked to CiU. El Mundo's document casts little new light on the case, but as a description of the scale of the corruption involved it's really quite useful. 

Interestingly, it turns out that it's not just CiU that is affected by the scandal. The document mentions an allegation that El Mundo, unsurprisingly given its political orientation, didn't seem to find very interesting. The claim cited by the document is that José Maria Aznar's political foundation, the FAES, also received a handsome commission via those accused of ripping off the huge sums of money involved. Surely there would be no collusion between the dominant party of Catalan nationalism and Madrid's right wingers, supposedly so bitterly opposed to each other? Well it seems that one of those accused in the Palau case, Felix Millet, was also a prominent member of the Catalan branch of the FAES. By one of those uncanny coincidences that life throws up, Aznar's administration made a generous contribution to the (by now) incredibly expensive job of restoring the Palau. 

The Palau case is not unique by any means, it's remarkably close to that pattern of corruption that is still emerging in Partido Popular ruled areas like the Balearics, Valencia and Madrid. Public money is ransacked via commissions and phony billing with part of the money being diverted to the illegal financing of political parties. The only 'fiscal deficit' we're talking about here is the millions these people have managed to extract from public funds. Nevertheless, it's clear that Cataluña is more than capable of supporting its own local kleptocracy without any help from the rest of Spain. It's going to take an awful lot of flag waving to get rid of the stench.

With all the noise of the election campaign, it's easy to forget that CiU and the PP have had a pact for the last year, with the Catalan nationalists showing enthusiasm for some of Rajoy's failed economic recipes in return for the PP propping up the minority administration run by Mas. The collaboration isn't finished either. Yesterday the Spanish governnment pardoned, for the second time, members of the Mossos d'Esquadra who had been convicted of torture. Yes. Torture. This pardon, along with that of a corrupt CiU politician a few months ago, is part of the pact between the two parties. Now the same officers will be free to torture other citizens. I would nominate them for the job of waving the Catalan flag from the police helicopter on the next Diada march in September 2013. I'm reliably informed such gestures go down very well. That is, if they're not too busy dealing with the pesky opposition

I was reading last week an extract from Aznar's forthcoming memoirs. It's a tedious and difficult task, but somebody has to do it - I mean, you're not going to buy this stuff? In the midst of all the vainglorious grandstanding about how Aznar made Spain the greatest nation the world has ever seen, there was some interesting detail about how he worked hard to get CiU to join his government, even when the PP had an overall majority. You see, they had quite a lot in common. They still do, it's a shame that so many will need to have Catalan independence before being prepared to deal with that.


Lee said...

If I remember well, the whole Palau scandal started with the accidental burning of the old building, or as we say in NYC, someone dropped a match.

Graeme said...

I think you might be mixing it up with the Liceu, which I'm sure has a story has a story behind it too.

Lee said...

Oops, you're right. My mistake.