Spain wakes up to corruption 'hangover'

Spain wakes up to corruption 'hangover'

16th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

After 15 years, Spaniards are finally seeing the rampant corruption beneath all the uncontrollable property speculation.

Fifteen years of frenzied real estate speculation in Spain is being replaced by a wave of political corruption that is angering many Spaniards already suffering from the economic crisis.

"After getting drunk on speculation, we are waking up to a corruption hangover," said Gaspar Llamazares, the leader of the United Left coalition.

Barely a week goes by without some town or region embroiled in a new corruption scandal, , the backdrop to which is usually the collapse of the country's real estate market in 2008.

And Spaniards, already hit by economic recession and soaring unemployment, are taking notice.

A recent opinion poll released by the CIS institute said "politicians and political parties" has climbed two places to be the fourth most important concern for voters, ahead of Basque separatist violence but behind economic issues and immigration.

The conservative opposition Popular Party has been in the forefront of the scandals, with its members in the Valencia and Madrid regions being investigated for allegedly taking bribes for public contracts.

But in early November, a new case emerged in the northeastern region of Catalonia involving a Socialist legislator and former nationalists, showing that no party has a monopoly on virtue.

People ride they bicycles past half-built buildings and empty villas at the Montecid residential development area in Alicante

"We are seeing the consequences of the housing bubble. The economic crisis is like a wave withdrawing from the beach revealing cigarette butts" in the sand, said the PP's deputy secretary of communications, Esteban Gonzalez Pons.

The centre-right daily El Mundo estimated that EUR 4.1 billion has been embezzled in Spain in the last 10 years, "the equivalent of 50 modern hospitals."

And it based that figure just on cases that are being investigated or are already closed.

Some police believe that corruption has generated more money than drug trafficking, which is already big business in Spain.

Most of the cases concern reclassifications by mayors of rural zones into constructible land through commissions paid by contractors.

Some contractors "have become multi-millionaires without lifting a finger, through an administrative decision," said Gonzalez Pons.

And some elected officials appear to have become wealthier with their villas, luxury cars, expensive works of art or race horses.

This was seen in 2006 in the huge corruption scandal in southern resort of Marbella, a paradise of the jet-set and organised crime.

"Many politicians have lost all shame and ask you for cash without intermediaries," one contractor told ABC newspaper. "They ask you for EUR 100,000  up to 10 million if it's a big reclassification operation."

Most of the corruption is along the Mediterranean coast, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and in the Madrid region.

Photo source youtube
Spanish real estate market: apartments for sale close o the beach in Southern Spain

Spanish media says more than 300 people -- elected officials or contractors -- will be tried for corruption and influence peddling in 2010.

Political parties, aware that the public is judging them, have vowed to address the issue, considering tougher prison sentences or moves to force politicians to publish their assets.

"Either we firmly contain ... corruption or the democratic capital that has been earned" since death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 "will go down the drain," ABC warned in an editorial written by its director, pointing to the risk of "a enormous increase of abstention in the elections."

AFP / Pierre Ausseill / Expatica

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