From embezzling money destined for humanitarian organizations to expensive building projects bankrolled by public money and never finished, or notorious tarjetas black to taxless governmental slush funds, people in the corridors of power - city councils, bank directors, political party members, even the Spanish monarchy – have for years been finding imaginative ways to diddle the Spanish public as a matter of routine. Between 2008 and 2013 politicians in the Comunitat Valenciá area alone reportedly fleeced upwards of €125,000 million. The hundreds of trials resulting from these unprecedented corruption cases are reputedly costing the Spanish taxpayer €40,000 million a year. Right now, 24 members of Valencia's political establishment are either being investigated or standing trial for corruption, In Spain, la corrupción is is never far below the surface. Want to know more? From Barcenas to Rita Barberá, here's a brief A-Z of the chief agents of Spanish corruption …
With his meaty sideburns and slick-back hair he looked like a throwback to the 1970s mafia don. For the best part of his career as treasurer for the Partido Popular, Luis Barcenas acted like one too, using his position in the government to operate a slush fund, evade taxes and embezzle at leisure. The Caso Barcenas was the mother of all Spanish corruption cases. It brought disgrace to the Partido Popular and Mariano Rajoy – who Barcenas claimed had taken cash himself (Rajoy denied it flatly, rode the storm and had him kicked out of the party) – and ended in a jail sentence for Barcenas. He has since become a pin-up for everything wrong with Spain, his story made into a movie starring Pedro Casablanc and simply titled B.
Black Cards and Bankia
For a nine-year period ending in 2013, an unusual credit card known as the ‘tarjeta black’ or ‘Centurion Card’ was hiding in the pockets of an exclusive group of Bankia and Caja Madrid executives and advisors. Fiscal exemption. No interest rates. Limitless funds. Total confidentiality. They were black market cards for high-fliers: manufactured and operated illegally by one of Spain’s main banks. The ‘Bankia Case’, when it came out, exposed €150 million worth of spending binges by at least 80 card-owners on meals in restaurants, nights in hotels and shopping for anything from electronic goods to designer clothing. They even used them to withdraw cash.
Incredibly over a third of the ‘expenses’ used on the cards was withdrawn from cash machines. How did all this money escape notice? It was camouflaged in accounts vaguely denominated as ‘errores del servidor informatico’, fed by Gold and Silver accounts used by directors and advisors, and justified as ‘gastos de organos de gobierno,’ ie. governance costs.
Among the executives who enjoyed use of a tarjeta black and have since been imputed was Rodrigo Rato, ex-boss of the International Monetary Fund and member of the Partido Popular. Meanwhile, Chief executive Miguel Blesa blew €10,000 on wine. The leftwing Izquierda Unida politician José Antonio Moral Santín withdrew €365,000 from cash machines. The biggest spender though was the finance director Ildefonso Sánchez Barcoj, who directed €484,200 worth of finances into his own wallet.
The Gurtel Network
'Gurtel' was the codename for a massive countrywide investigation into kickbacks, bribes and launderings involving hundreds of politicians, inluding Barcenas. At the centre of it all was Francisco Correa, whose name means belt, or 'gurtel' in German, hence the codename. Correa made generous gifts to PP members in Madrid, Valencia, Toledo, Jerez, La Rioja and other regions in exchange for lucrative contracts for his companies. It was the Gurtel affair which brought to light Barcenas' secret ledger listing bribes and illegal donations. Also outlined were dozens of illegal real estate contracts in Boadilla del Monte, Majahondas and other regions of Spain. The PP even supposedly paid for refurbishments to several party headquarters using laundered money.
The Noos Case
Seeing politicians and bankers enjoying themselves so much, the Spanish Royal Family weren’t about to miss out on the fun. The King’s youngest daughter, or infanta, Cristina de Borbón, together with her husband Iñaki Urdangarin (an ex-basketball player), created a phantom non-profit organization called el Instituto Noos and funneled as much money as they could towards it. This led to a figure of about €6 million in fake contracts and probably even more ending up in fiscal paradises.
Ex-President of the Generalitat for most of the Transition Years and an enormous presence on the Catalan political scene, Jordi Pujol’s name was tarnished when it came to light he’d kept millions in undeclared accounts abroad. Declaring before the judge, he insisted he had never taken illicit money or abused his position, claiming he had simply never had time to ‘regularize’ the accounts in question. He was subsequently stripped of his €82,000 pension and his complimentary office on the Passeig de Grácia.
With her brash, chatty manner and pearl necklaces, there’s something of the grand dame about Rita Barberá, currently a senator for the Partido Popular de Valencia. But as mayoress of Valencia for 24 years it was she who presided over a period of endemic corruption which has led 24 of her collaboraters to the supreme court amid allegations of illegal financing and money laundering. As a senator and lawmaker Rita is currently immune to arrest herself. Not immune at all, and therefore currently standing trial is Alfonso Rus, the ex-Mayor of Xativa, who is said to have masteminded a network of rigged public contracts which provided between 2 and 3% in kickbacks for its benificients. Another of the 24 involved in the scandal is the former regional education secretary, Maximo Caturla. He was the chief architect of the agujero de Ciegsa (the black hole of Ciegsa). Ciegsa was a public company responsible for construting school buildings. Caturla was conveniently an advisor. Under Caturla's watch millions of Euros in public funds were allegedly diverted away from their intended destination.