Senior judge defiant over allegations of lavish spending
While Spain suffers ever-increasing economic turmoil, an unprecedented crisis in the judiciary is causing further instability
THIS IS not a good moment for the institutions that underpin Spanish democracy.
Parliament is marginalised by the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who gives minimal information to public representatives on his erratic handling of the economic crisis.
The monarchy has been discredited by a financial scandal implicating the king’s son-in-law, and by King Juan Carlos’s own capricious hunting holiday in the midst of a national emergency.
Now the most senior Spanish judge, Carlos Dívar, who is president both of the Supreme Court and of the powerful General Council of the Judiciary, clings stubbornly to both positions while his many extravagant and allegedly unjustifiable personal expenses make daily headlines.
Over the last four years, Dívar has spent no less than 32 three- or four-day weekends in luxury holiday destinations, at public expense.
His sole guest at many sumptuous dinners appears to be his chief bodyguard, with whom he has maintained an exceptionally long relationship.
Yet Dívar insists that all this expenditure is in order, because on each “weekend” he carried out some public function, though he often refuses to specify what these functions were.
Where the events concerned can be ascertained, they generally appear to have lasted a maximum of an hour or two. And a former regional first minister has explicitly denied inviting Dívar to an event the judge claims to have attended. “If he says we invited him, he is lying,” Miguel Angel Revilla told the media.
Far from showing any sign of contrition, Dívar says he is the victim of a campaign of defamation. One of his statements, however, has especially infuriated ordinary Spaniards, struggling under a programme of severe austerity and fearful that their country may be bankrupt. “What I spend on these occasions is a mere pittance compared to what others spend,” Dívar announced in an unusually communicative moment.
One person’s pittance, it has been dryly observed, can be another’s monthly income.
In a single sentence, Dívar demonstrated how chronically out of touch the Spanish establishment is with the economic misery that is spreading across the nation, and also implied that most of his colleagues dip much deeper into the public purse than he does.
It is widely suspected that these colleagues’ shared guilt in these matters is the main reason why Dívar was able, initially, to easily see off demands by a minority of judges that he should be subject to investigation.
A recent survey shows that Spain’s highly politicised judiciary is the least respected of Spain’s key institutions.
Judges and prosecutors are openly aligned with “conservative” and “progressive” factions.
They often owe their positions to patronage from, respectively, the Partido Popular (PP), currently in government, and the Socialist Party (PSOE).
Dívar is deeply conservative in both political and religious terms. A devout Catholic, he attributes his escape from an attack by the Basque terrorist group Eta some years ago to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.
However, even his most conservative colleagues have taken the temperature of public anger on this issue, and last Saturday they let him know that he no longer has their confidence.
But still he persuaded them to allow him to remain in office for this week’s high-profile ceremonies celebrating the bicentenary of the Supreme Court.
He hinted to them strongly that he may resign tomorrow. But in an interview with El Mundo on Monday, he refused to confirm this, and repeated his allegation that he is a conspiracy victim. Pious self-pity rather than self-criticism was the keynote of his remarks.
However this affair ends, it has given many Spaniards one more reason to wonder whether their rulers really have their interests at heart.