More than 300 Spanish politicians, including regional presidents and senior ministers, have become tangled in an emerging corruption scandal.
“Today we have more information about corruption thanks to the investigations opened a few years ago,” Fernando Jiménez, an expert in corruption at the University of Murcia, told The Foreign Report. He added: “the combination between corruption scandals and economic crisis is extremely dangerous for a society that have to cope with several cuttings in public services.”
The latest corruption scandal has involved a number of senior members of the People’s Party (PP), the conservative party currently in government. In late January, Swiss authorities informed that Luis Bárcenas, the party’s former treasurer, had €22 million in Swiss bank accounts. Subsequently, El País daily published the so-called ‘Bárcenas secret papers’, 14 handwritten notes which evidenced that he made under-the-table payments to party officials, such as the current general secretary, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, some of the government ministers and Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister. The latter may have received at least €25,000 each year between 1997 and 2008.
Bárcenas immediately denied having made these payments in a press release. Prime Minister Rajoy similarly denied “ever having received any amount of money” in a press conference; he also refused to take any of the journalists’ questions. Moreover, the People’s Party announced that they would “denounce anyone who stained the party’s honor” but seemingly have taken no further action.
It has evoked strong feelings in Spain. Protesters have started demonstrating in front of the PP central headquarter in Madrid, calling for Rajoy and his government to stand down. On the 10th February, El Mundo published an opinion poll, which saw a 10 point drop in the party’s ratings since their election in 2011. Another poll found that more than 50% of Spaniards think Mariano Rajoy has been unsuccessful in government.
Professor Jiménez believes “there is no control in the mechanisms of party’s funding”. He thinks that corruption can be stamped out, but “public administration must be transparent and depoliticized”.
As a result of these scandals, Mariano Rajoy has changed his course and has announced that he will put forward to all the parties a “big anti-corruption agreement”. This would be an “important step”, said Jesús Lizcano, president of Transparency International in Spain, who added that “Spanish politicians should do more than what they are doing nowadays by taking brave measures”. It also seems likely that Rajoy will put forward a new law to control the financing of political parties.
Other political scandals
According to Fernando Jiménez, much of the country’s corruption stemmed from town planning during the housing boom of the last decade. Today, however, many of the investigations are related to illegal funding in public administrations and political parties, or irregularities in the awarding of public contracts.
In 2009, after a report published in El País, an investigation was opened to know more about a corruption network related to the People’s Party (PP). The network was allegedly run by Francisco Correa, a businessman is accused of appropriating public funds from some city councils and regional governments from Madrid, Valencia and Galicia. All three cities were governed by the People’s Party. Correa also organized political events when the conservative Jose María Aznar was governing and he was accused of possible illegal financing of People’s Party.
The former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas (PP) was sentenced in March 2012 to 6 years in prison because he paid a journalist with public money to write positive articles about his government and his legacy. Furthermore, Matas was accused of embezzlement, breach of trust, and influence peddling, among others. In this region, more than 20 corruption cases are currently under investigation, most of them related with People’s Party and a regional party, Unió Mallorquina.
The investigation that has really captured the attention of the media is that of Iñaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law of the Spanish King and the Duke of Palma. It is alleged that Urdangarin was diverting public money through his non-profit organization, Noós Institute, and making contracts with regional governments for work that was never carried out. He is also said to have transferred large amounts of public money to tax havens in the UK and Belize.
The Spanish Royal Family has distanced themselves from Urdangarin, recently removing his profile from the official website, but that has not stopped the media from reporting on the scandal. Mariano Rajoy has pledged to put a stop to the culture of corruption in Spain, but it seems unlikely that he will have kept the trust of the people given his alleged involvement.