The Gürtel case is an ongoing political corruption scandal in Spain, which implicates officers of the People's Party (PP), Spain major right-wing party, some of which have been forced to resign or have been suspended. The case came to public attention in early 2009, but for the most part the suspects are still awating trial. While Gurtel is one of the largest corruption scandals in recent Spanish history, since 2013 the related Barcenas case has been receiving a considerable amount of press coverage.
The investigative operation was given the name Gürtel in a cryptic reference to one of the principal suspects, Francisco Correa (Correa means belt in English, Gürtel in German). Correa is a businessman who cultivated links with PP officers. The Spanish police began to investigate his activities in 2007 after information was obtained from a whistle-blower regarding alleged corruption in the Madrid area.
Among the accusations are bribery, money laundering and tax evasion implicating a circle of businessmen led by Correa and politicians belonging to the People's Party. The alleged illicit activities related to party funding and the award of contracts by local/regional government in Valencia, the Community of Madrid and elsewhere.
Early calculations on the money loss to public finances were estimated to be at least €120,000,000. However, some of the alleged bribes were not particularly large; for example, items of clothing.
A judicial investigation was started by Baltasar Garzón, the examining magistrate of the Juzgado Central de Instrucción No. 5, the court which investigates the most important criminal cases in Spain, including terrorism, organised crime, and money laundering. Garzón had five suspects, including Correa, detained in February 2009.
Garzón was suspended as a judge in 2010 pending his own trial on a charge of exceeding his authority with regard to a case unrelated to Gurtel (his investigation into Francoist crimes against humanity). This particular suspension was eventually overturned, but it was still in force when, in 2011, Garzón was given another suspension, this time pending trial for having violated lawyer-client privilege in the Gurtel case. (He had recorded conversations between detained suspects and their lawyers).
The case was re-assigned to Judge Antonio Pedreira, who in the summer of 2011 set bail for Correa at €15,000,000, reportedly the second largest figure in Spanish legal history. Correa's legal team appealed, saying that the amount was not based on an objective assessment of their client's wealth. Access to some of Correa´s accounts had been blocked, and it was difficult to establish the extent of his wealth held abroad. Correa was released on bail in June 2012 by the third judge to handle the case Pablo Ruz, who had reduced the sum required to 200,000 euros, a reduction reflecting not only the accused's perceived ability to pay, but also the length of time he had been held on remand, which was approaching the maximum possible under Spanish law.
The investigation has taken a long time partly because of delays in receiving information from foreign banks. However, a case involving the Valencian branch of the network went to court relatively quickly. The "suitgate" affair (as it was known in the press) damaged the career of prominent Valencian politician Francisco Camps. After a partial dismissal in 2009, the Supreme Court of Spain ordered it to be reopened. In 2011, Camps resigned as Valencian premier and leader of the Valencian Partido Popular in order to avoid standing trial while in office. Camps was found not guilty in 2012, and the verdict was upheld on appeal.
Spain's highest-circulation daily newspaper El País won a major press award (an Ortega y Gasset Award) in 2010 for investigative journalism relating to Gürtel. Público, a newspaper with a more left-wing stance than El País, has also given a lot of coverage to the case.
Prior to 2013, reactions to Gurtel often divided on party political lines, with the more conservative media downplaying the significance of the allegations. In 2013 the picture became more complicated as divisions appeared within the Popular Party in relation to the Barcenas case. It has been argued that the underlying problem is not a party political one, but rather a system which does not require transparency in the award of contracts. Spain has dropped from 30th to 40th place in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
In January 2013 there were major revelations regarding the activities of Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the Partido Popular. The Spanish justice system released information from the Swiss authorities regarding his financial dealings in Switzerland. There were also press reports of alleged slush funds run for the benefit of the Partido Popular. El Mundo, Spain's leading conservative newspaper, alleged that ill-gotten funds had been used to make under-the-table payments ("backhanders") to party officials. Citing sources within the Partido Popular, the newspaper appeared to clear the party's current leadership, saying that such payments were made between 1989 and 2009.
On January 31, El Pais published images from 11 years of these handwritten alleged slush funds, which report a total of 250,000 euros paid to current prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The alleged funds came mostly from private building construction companies, like FCC and OHL; this, if the allegations are confirmed, would raise questions on Spain's building boom. While the PP filed a defamation lawsuit against El País (subsequently dropped), it did not take action against El Mundo.
Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce ordered the anti-corruption prosecutor to investigate any possible links between the alleged payments handed out to Popular Party (PP) officials and case filings in the Gürtel case.
- (Spanish) "La fiscalía implica al presidente valenciano" 19 February 2009. El País
- Zafra, Ignacio (13 July 2011), "Camps' defense changes tack in attempt to shelve trial." El País (English edition)
- Pere Rusiñol (2011), "La 'Gürtel' costó 120 millones al erario público", Público
- Fabra, María and Ignacio Zafra (15 July 2011) "Valencian premier to stand trial for accepting suits as gifts." El País (English edition)
- (Spanish) "Garzón defiende en Valencia las escuchas del caso Gürtel." El Mundo
- Zuber, Helene (2102), "Prosecuting the Prosecutor." Spiegel International (Spiegel Online)
- Melchor Saiz-Pardo (2011), "Imponen a Correa la segunda mayor fianza de la historia." ABC.
- (Spanish) "Francisco Correa sale de prisión tras pagar 200.000 € de fianza" 20minutos. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
- "Valencia's ex-premier goes on trial in Gürtel suit-gate case". Retrieved August 10, 2012.
- Paul Mitchell (1 September 2010), "Spain: Popular Party embroiled in corruption scandal.", World Socialist Web Site
- (Spanish) "Francisco Camps dimite" El Mundo, 20 July 2011
- (Spanish) "Camps y Costa, no culpables." El Pais, 25 January 2012.
- REPORTAJE: XXVII Premios Ortega y Gasset
- The print edition of Publico folded in 2012, but it is still produced on line. See Web portal Trama Gürtel (www.publico.es) (Spanish)
- (21 April 2010) The Gürtel scandal: The missing debate, Reflections on Spain
- Burgen, Stephen (2013). "Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy keeps counsel as corruption allegations fly". www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- "Spain drops 10 places in Transparency International 2013 corruption index". El Pais (English edition). 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- EFE, "Spain’s Ruling Party to Probe Swiss Bank Account Scandal." in Latin American Herald Tribune
- (Spanish)"Bárcenas pagó sobresueldos en negro a cargos del PP". Libertad Digital. 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
- "Spain corruption scandal turns up heat on PM Rajoy." Reuters, 31 Jan 2013
- Castro, Irene."Mariano Rajoy incumplió la ley si cobró del PP mientras era ministro." eldiario.es
- Giles Tremlett (6 March 2009), Spanish opposition party rocked by corruption scandal, The Guardian
- Gurtel portal, 20minutos