Corruption: Spain's battle against the bad eggs

15th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

As a former judge is jailed for bribery and extortion in the country's worst judicial scandal, we examine what Spain is doing to prevent high-level political corruption.

Former judge Luis Pascual Estevill was jailed for nine years and fined EUR 1.8 million after being convicted of leading the largest corruption racket discovered in the Spanish judicial system in 25 years.

Estevill, a former judge in Barcelona and one-time member of the General Council of the Judiciary, was found to have accepted bribes and helped run an extortion racket between 1990 and 1994.

A former high-profile Catalan lawyer, Joan Piqué Vidal, was also sentenced to seven years imprisonment and fined EUR 900,000 in relation to the case.

According to the court ruling, Estevill and Piqué Vidal abused their positions to demand backhanders from businesses involved in lawsuits.

The extortion allowed them to accumulate hundreds of thousands of euros in bribes over the four-year period.

As part of the sentence, they have been ordered to compensate victims with amounts ranging between EUR 3,000 and EUR 90,000.

Several other people found guilty of participating in the scam, including Estevill's son, were fined and sentenced to up to one year in prison.

This is just the lastest in a long line of high-profile scandals in Spain.

Determined to put a stop to the rot, the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has announced plans to introduce code of conduct in public life.

It will mean the crusty titles to which Spanish officialdom has been attached since the time of Don Quijote are to disappear under the rules of 'good governance'.
No longer will ministers and senior officials be addressed as 'exelencia', but as plain senor and senora.

The ethics code, which could be in place by the middle of next year, will aim at 'transparency and austerity' in public life.

Politicians and officials will be expected to hold only one job, rather than accumulating many positions, as some do at present.

And they will not be supposed to hold any outside position that limits their availability or dedication to their political work.

Politicians and senior officials will be expected to reveal their wealth and place their investments in a blind trust. They should accept only nominal gifts where courtesy demands it, and refrain from ostentatious or inappropriate behaviour.

The new code of conduct comes after Spaniards told an international poll on corruption that they believed their politicians were the most corrupt section in society.

To many an outsider, this might seem a predictable reaction; politicians are never the most popular characters in any society.

But a look at recent form would explain much - Spain has been dogged by scandals. Indeed, a series of high-level political scandals were what did for the last Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez, who lost power in 1996.

Here we detail the major scandals of recent years.

The ex-secretary of state for security

The crime:


Rafael Vera was finally jailed in October for seven years for paying out bonuses to personal contacts and stealing up to EUR 5 million in one of the biggest scandals of the Nineties. He still has the support of Gonzalez, who asked for him to be pardoned. It was originally claimed Vera was involved in the 'dirty war' against ETA in which a number of leading politicians became embroiled.

The punishment:

Ordered to pay back EUR 3,876,525, he has had had three houses and property seized but these do not cover this sum.

The banker

The crime:


The Gescartera brokerage house collapsed and its main shareholder Antonio Camacho was jailed in 2001 after EUR 108 million of clients' money went missing. He used the money to pay for gifts and 'bought' jobs for staff at the Spanish stock market regulator and pocketed the rest. One junior minister was forced to resign. The affair exposed the 'old boy network' at the heart of the Spanish establishment.

The punishment:

Camacho, who reputedly had a collection of 100 Armani suits, paid a fine of EUR 300,000 by selling his mother's and brothers' flats and served just three years. But none of the EUR 108m has been paid back.

The judge
The crime:


Luis Pasqual Estevill and lawyer Joan Pique Vidal carried out a campaign of extortion against leading companies, forcing them to pay EUR 150-300,000 or they would bring trumped-up charges against them. A leading figure in the right-leaning Catalan nationalist party, Estevill's fall has had political connotations.

The punishment:

Estevill was jailed for nine years, fined EUR 1.8m. He has already been convicted twice of perverting the course of justice and false imprisonment and was jailed in 2001 for seven years and ordered to pay EUR 601,000. All property seized but not all fines or compensation paid back.

The council chief/ football boss

The crime:


Former mayor of Marbella, Jesus Gil and his successor Julian Munoz creamed off EUR 360 million over nine years from the council. Phantom companies charged the council EUR 30 million between 1991 and 1995. Gil, the one-time owner of Athletico Madrid FC whose nickname was 'Raging Bull', was said to have personally pocketed EUR 4.6 million, siphoning the cash into the football club. The case was Spain's worst example of municipal fraud.

The punishment:

Gil, jailed in 2000 for just six months for corruption, died this year. Munoz has been ordered to pay back EUR 24 million. So far all his financial assets have been seized but the cash is still outstanding.

The banker

The crime:


Nicknamed 'The Shark', Mario Conde was chairman of Banesto bank. But in 1993, EUR 3.6 billion went missing. Eventually brought to trial in 2000, Conde was jailed for 10 years for embezzlement and fraud and ordered to pay back EUR 22.6 million. A symbol of the get-rich-quick 1980s Spain, the conviction of the suave Conde tarnished the government of former Socialist prime minister Felipe Gonzalez.

The punishment:

Allowed out of jail for daughter's wedding and his wife could see him inside for 'conjugal visits'. So far he has only paid back EUR 260,000, though he still owes houses valued at EUR 10.21 million. Paid off fines of EUR 3.6 million from separate case by giving up paintings by Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. Has brokered a deal whereby if he pays of EUR 22.6 million he will be out of jail by 2009.

The police-chief

The crime:


This scandal epitomised the scandals which brought down the Gonzalez government.  Ex-director of the Guardia Civil, Luis Roldan, used his job to pay bribes and defraud the state of EUR 60,000 each month. Roldan fled Spain after the corruption scandal broke in 1994, with allegations he was involved in pocketing secret funds earmarked for Spain's 'dirty war' against ETA in the 1980s in which 27 people were murdered by Spain's security forces. Roldan's easy escape forced the resignation of the then Interior Minister. Eventually captured, he claimed he took cash on the orders of government officials to fund the Socialist party.

The punishment:

Jailed in 1998 for 28 years for embezzlement, fraud and tax evasion, he was fined EUR 13.09 million. Prison sentence cut to 20 years. So far he has paid off just EUR 3.6 million and has an easy regime in prison.

updated January 2005

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Subject: Spanish news, Corruption

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