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THE EURO ZONE

In the spotlight

Spain's Supreme Court this week maintained the High Court's 2018 decision in the so-called Gürtel case, showing no leniency towards the masterminds of one of the biggest corruption scandals in Spanish history. In upholding the fraud convictions against businessman Francisco Correa and former Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas, as well as those against 27 others and the civil charge against the party as a whole, the court reminds us of how corrupt Spain's Conservatives had become. And just as the capital is now at the heated centre of the country's Covid crisis, so it has often been Corruption HQ for one of the least scrupulous parties in Europe.

Madrid's branch of the PP is currently under the spotlight, as regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso bickers with Pedro Sánchez about the correct regulations to impose on the capital (thus highlighting the fundamental ideological divide over how to deal with Covid: devolved powers and a piecemeal approach vs blanket, centralised decision-making). But when the Gürtel sentences were handed down in April 2018, the Spanish capital's PP leadership was under scrutiny for very different reasons - namely, corruption and theft.

Facing apparently well-founded accusations that she had faked her master's degree from King Juan Carlos University (whose royal namesake is now also being investigated for fraud), then-Madrid premier Cristina Cifuentes was under intense pressure to resign. Cifuentes refused, but finally stepped down a few weeks later, when the release of CCTV footage from 2011 appeared to show the PP star stealing from a supermarket. At the same time, the legitimacy of the qualifications claimed by the party's current leader, Pablo Casado, were also being questioned, although these inquiries came to nothing.

Cifuentes' predecessor and fellow PP veteran Esperanza Aguirre (Madrid premier from 2003 to 2012) had also resigned as the party's Madrid chief in February 2016, days after its regional HQ was raided by police in connection with the so-called Púnica scandal. Aguirre hung on to her secondary position as the party's spokeswoman in the city council; but she was forced to leave that post just over a year later too, when her former second-in-command and successor as Madrid president, Ignacio González, was arrested in connection with yet another fraud case. This one was dubbed Lezo, and concerned the alleged misuse of public funds allocated to the Canal Isabel II water company.

All of which shows just how bad things have become within the PP, especially in its Madrid division. Once the Covid storm has passed, one of Ayuso's most pressing tasks will be to make a clean break with the party's previous leaderships in the capital, the last two of which (at least) have presided over systematic, deep-set corruption. That's assuming, of course, that no fresh scandals come along in the meantime.