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 awaiting trial. While Gürtel 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 (es) (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 Gürtel (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 Gürtel case. (He had recorded conversations between detained suspects and their lawyers).
The case was reassigned to Judge Antonio Pedreira. In the summer of 2011 Pedreira 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, as access to some of Correa´s accounts had been blocked and there was uncertainty about how much wealth he 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.
As at the beginning of 2014 it is not known when the trial will begin. 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.
Prior to 2013, reactions to Gürtel often divided on party political lines, with the more conservative media downplaying the significance of the allegations. Spain's highest-circulation daily newspaper El País, which traditionally supports the PSOE, 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, also gave a lot of coverage to the case.
In 2013 the picture became more complicated as divisions appeared within the Popular Party in relation to the Barcenas case. The centre-right El Mundo has carried some revelations about the 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. The allegations about illegal party funding came initially from El Mundo, Spain's leading conservative newspaper. It 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 of handwritten accounts, allegedly detailing 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. In 2014 El Pais commented that it is hard to draw a clear line between the two cases, Gürtel and Barcenas.
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- REPORTAJE: XXVII Premios Ortega y Gasset
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- Gürtel portal, 20minutos