Spain rights judge Garzon convicted for wiretaps
Spain's Supreme Court convicted judge Baltasar Garzon on Thursday in an illegal wiretapping case, crushing the judicial career of a man who won world renown for pursuing human rights abuses.
The decision halts the rise of a judge who has taken on dictators, Basque militants and even Al-Qaeda, but who stumbled when he tangled with a corruption probe targeting senior politicians.
Garzon, 56, who earned international fame for trying to extradite Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, was found guilty of ordering illegal recordings of corruption suspects talking to their lawyers.
“We condemn the accused, Baltasar Garzon, as the author of the crime of abusing his authority… to 11 years’ suspension from his duty as judge or magistrate,” the court’s ruling read.
The suspension effectively ends Garzon’s career as a judge. It can be appealed at Spain’s Constitutional Court.
Garzon’s lawyer Francisco Baena Bocanegra said after the judgment that he would fight the case further, without giving details of any possible appeal.
“We will continue fighting in defence of the innocence that has been denied to us today… before the appropriate authorities,” Bocanegra said on Spanish television.
The complex corruption case that Garzon probed has implicated senior members of the conservative Popular Party, which returned to government in December.
Ordinary Spaniards expressed suspicion over cases against Garzon and the conviction.
“He is the best judge Spain has had,” said Emilio Garrido, 87, a passer-by in a Madrid street, after Thursday’s ruling.
“Now he has opposed the government that we have… this is what he gets.”
“It seems to me like the world is back-to-front,” with a judge being judged, said another, Begona Antonio, 55.
“The judicial system is bad in Spain. There are the remains of Francoism. It is a shame and makes me very sad.”
Garzon is also awaiting judgment in a second trial for trying to investigate atrocities of the Franco era, in an alleged breach of an amnesty. He argues the acts were crimes against humanity and not subject to an amnesty.
Garzon’s defenders say both trials are politically motivated bids to stop him prosecuting crimes committed during Spain’s 1936-1939 Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
“The circumstances in which this conviction has been made cannot avoid being seen internationally as a punishment for Judge Garzon for investigating the crimes of the Francoists,” said Pedro Nikken, president of the International Commission of Jurists, who observed the second trial.
In the case judged Thursday Garzon said the wiretaps were legal since the lawyers themselves were implicated in the case and he wanted to prevent alleged money-laundering continuing while the suspects were in jail.
In a strongly-worded decision, the judges said the recordings of the suspects’ conversations that he ordered were “practices which these days only take place in totalitarian regimes”.
Garzon could receive a further 20-year suspension if convicted in the second trial which wrapped up on Wednesday, for which no judgment date has been set.
The ex-judge joined the National Court in 1988 and quickly took on sensitive cases that made headlines.
He waged a 22-year judicial fight against the Basque separatist group ETA and probed the GAL death squads in Spain’s Basque region under the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez in the 1980s, which targeted ETA suspects.
He also pursued members of the former dictatorship in Argentina and issued an indictment against Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2003.