Payback time for Spain’s top judge Carlos Dívar
The expenses scandal that has seen a senior judicial official step down highlights the difficulty many Spanish public figures have in fully accepting their responsibilities.
By Nick Lyne
Carlos Dívar, the president of Spain’s Supreme Court, finally resigned on June 21 after allegations last month that he used public money to pay for up to 32 private trips to Marbella and other destinations.
But the 70-year-old has refused to accept the misconduct accusations, simply telling the 20 members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the judicial oversight board of which he was appointed president in 2008 — and from which he will also be standing down — that he was “unaware of any wrongdoing”, acknowledging instead that the situation had become “unbearable”.
Fellow judge José Manuel Gómez Benítez accused Divar on May 8 of spending €5,000 from his expenses account on six questionable trips to Marbella’s Puerto Banús, where he stayed at a luxury hotel and had a number of dinners in the company of one other person.
Prosecutors dropped the investigation after ruling, among other things, that Dívar didn’t personally profit from the trips, which they deemed official. Under the current judiciary code, it was argued that he didn’t have to give any public explanations for the excursions.
By early June, the now former chief justice came under intense public pressure when Benítez discovered that between 2008 and March of this year Dívar had spent more than €28,000 on 32 trips to Marbella and other destinations such as Bilbao, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia, staying at high-end hotels and resorts.
Dívar refused to discuss the allegations publically, issuing a press statement denying the accusations the next day. On May 21, an investigation by the Supreme Court found that Dívar had not broken any rules, adding that he was not required to explain the nature of official visits.
But while Dívar dug in his heels, some of the officials he had supposedly met for business during his trips started denying that such meetings had taken place or refusing to confirm them.
The far from media-savvy Dívar handled the matter badly, failing to see that the accusations against him were not so much about misuse of public funds, but about public perceptions in a country where one in four workers are unemployed that Spain’s institutions are run by people who are not only out of touch with reality, but think they are unaccountable.
Since the Dívar scandal broke, expense accounting rules have changed and judges are now required to give more detail about their official business trips.
The timing of Dívar’s downfall was unfortunate: the Supreme Court is celebrating its bicentennial this month, and Dívar is the first chief justice or CGPJ president to have to step down from his position.
King Juan Carlos, who handled his own scandal, sparked after he was injured during an elephant hunting trip in Botswana, far more adroitly, managed to avoid attending the 200th anniversary event on June 18. He excused himself while he travelled to Saudi Arabia to pay his condolences to the royal family for the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Instead, the King sent his son, a very clear signal of Divar’s isolation.
Dívar was appointed president of the CGPJ in 2008 by Socialist Party Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The decision came as a surprise to some, not so much for Dívar’s religious convictions, as for his low profile. That of course was the reason he got the job: he was the only man acceptable to the Popular Party. The CGPJ ‘s members are appointed by Congress, which is to say the two main parties, and the body is divided along political lines.
Over the course of his 28 years in the Supreme Court, the last seven of them as chief justice, Dívar had deliberately kept away from such high profile judges as Baltasar Garzón, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, and Javier Gómez Bermúdez, maintaining a policy of keeping on friendly terms with his colleagues, regardless of their political affiliations.
Which prompts the question as to why he was turned in by Gómez Benítez on a technicality. In an interview with El Mundo newspaper he said he had been the victim of a smear campaign, but refused to name names.
Intrigue and grudges in the judiciary
The right wing media in Spain are blaming Baltasar Garzón, pointing out that Gómez Benítez was Garzón’s defence lawyer. A story on the El Confidencial website says Gómez Benítez has been harbouring a grudge against Dívar since 2006, when Garzón was investigating links between ETA and a number of organizations in the Basque Country, and Benítez Gómez was negotiating on behalf of the then Socialist Party government with ETA.
According to El Confidencial’s sources, Dívar sent several letters to Garzón making clear that he believed that the government was trying to block the investigation into ETA’s satellite organizations to make peace talks easier.
Garzón has a long relationship with the Socialist Party, and was set for a political career under the last Felipe González administration between 1993 and 1996. In the event, after he was offered a minor position, he decided to return to the judiciary.
In February this year, Garzón was barred from practicing for 11 years after he was found guilty of illegal wiretapping in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case involving several PP-run municipalities. Prior to that, he had faced charges of overstepping his authority in ordering an investigation into crimes against humanity committed during the Civil War and the subsequent military regime of General Franco.
La Gaceta cites government sources as saying that Gómez Benítez has brought Dívar down in a bid to undermine the reputation of the Supreme Court and the CGPJ for allowing Garzón to be hung out to dry.
If this is the case, then Dívar played his part perfectly, albeit unwittingly, by confirming the widely held belief in Spain that politicians and senior officials never resign in a dignified manner, regardless of the evidence of wrongdoing or ineptitude against them, instead crying that they are the target of a political conspiracy. The beauty of the Dívar case is that for once, he probably was. But he still had to go.
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Published: Jun 22 2012
Category: Featured, Politics, Spain News
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Tags: El Confidencial, judge, judiciary, spain, spain crisis, spain news, spain news in english, spanish news