Friday, 3 February 2012

Camps vs Garzón: an extraordinary inversion of justice

Carlos Liria, friend of former President Camps, on the hotel balcony minutes before the jury was
Imagine a major British political figure, like the Mayor of London or the First Minister of Scotland, in the middle of a political scandal which everyone thought he would go down for. At the last minute a jury finds him not guilty by one vote, amidst accusations of jury-nobbling, and the man walks, to the amazement of everyone. Meanwhile, the internationally-respected judge who first investigated the case is being tried on a apparently trumped-up charge of overstepping his judicial authority, brought by – wait for it – the BNP.

This bizarre plot sounds like the stuff of a daytime TV drama, or a 1970s banana republic. But no, amazingly, this is what’s happening in our modern, vibrant, long-democratic European neighbour, Spain. Francisco Camps, President of Valencia’s regional government, resigned his post to “clear his name” after a typical corruption case was brought about accepting gifts of a few expensive suits. Last week, he was unexpectedly cleared of the charge. But cleared his name he has surely not, the trial having uncovered a deep links between the Spanish conservatives, the PP, and a group of businessmen awarded government contracts, a fact acknowledged even in the more sympathetic sections of the right-wing press. As a La Vanguardia editorial noted, with generous understatement:
“…it will be difficult to forget what was demonstrated during the trial, through multiple taped conversations that became public during the sessions: a way of administering power which was far from exemplary”.
Meanwhile, having just taken power nationally, the PP leadership is shamefully congratulating Camps on his acquittal over the suits, papering over the cracks and pretending that the rest never happened. Move along, nothing to see here.

The jury vote – a fairly uncommon event in Spain, where most cases are tried by judges – was won 5-4, leading to speculation that jurors had been intimidated, or bribed. A conspiracy theory? Perhaps: but look at the facts. Firstly only one in ten jury cases fail to get convictions, and this was one, which makes it highly unusual, especially for one so high-profile. A disturbing coincidence was that one of Camps’ close associates, a young star of the PP’s youth wing who was observing every session of the trial from the gallery, was also photographed having breakfast on the same terrace as the jury on the morning of the verdict, just a few minutes before they arrived. Finally, no serious commentator on the trial thinks that Camps is left untainted: in any event, acquittal on the relatively minor-scale corruption of the suits is just the tip of the iceberg. There will now be an appeal and possibly other prosecutions.

And finally, meet Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most well-known judge, celebrated for bringing the dictator Pinochet, Camps and other Spanish politicians, and many members of ETA to trial. More recently, he had been fighting to allow the families of Civil War dead, buried in mass graves, the right to a proper burial. This case, for which he is currently being tried, was brought by Manos Limpias, an odious but well-funded organisation of the far-right, which is concerned at what might be uncovered about the Franco era if the graves were to be reopened.

Now, sadly, corruption in Spain is nothing new in all political parties. And even fairly impartial observers agree that the Spanish judicial system is over-politicised: many such constitutional loose ends got left over from the transition to democracy thirty years ago. But this is a new low. If Garzón were to be convicted, it would be an astonishing miscarriage of justice with reverberations across the world, as this New York Times editorial showed last year:
“Spain’s best-known investigative magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, is now being prosecuted in a politically driven case that should have been thrown out of court.”
If you lived in a country with twenty per cent unemployment and in the middle of a harsh austerity programme (so as not to go the same way as Greece in the euro crisis and thereby bring the whole thing crashing down), you might think that the last thing you needed was not to be able to trust politicians or the legal system. It is a dizzying inversion when the thoroughly dubious politician walks free, while the stellar judge who indicted him sits in the dock. You start to understand the feelings of the “Indignados”, who occupied various buildings in Madrid last year, fed up with the self-serving Establishment.

But the worst thing about all of this is that if Garzón were to be convicted, not only would it mean the ignominious end of an inspiring career, which helped secure justice for Chilean and Argentine families after their dictatorships. It would probably also, with tragic irony, put paid to the hopes of many similar victims’ families in his own country of putting their ghosts to rest.

And leave a sad and shabby stain on the international reputation of one of the world’s great nations, not to mention its governing party.

This post first published at LabourList


  1. Pinochet? Allowed to evade justice by Blair? Just checking...

  2. Well, I did say to trial, not to justice. I suppose he didn't actually arrive at trial, so yes, that's not quite correct. But he was arrested and extradited, dammit.


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