Bad for business

Podemos, the coalition government's junior partner, is going through a rough patch. This week, a Madrid judge ordered several of its senior members to appear in court for questioning, in response to allegations of financial wrongdoings made by one of the leftist party's former lawyers. Even if the accusations turn out to be unfounded, it's still extremely bad publicity for a party that has risen to prominence with a tough stance on corruption. Accusations of shady financial activities damage the reputation of any prominent individual or organisation, but they'll have an even greater impact on Podemos, which claims to be free of all the usual vices.

The allegations have been made by José Calvente, who was Podemos' data-protection lawyer until last December, when he was fired after one of the party's female employees made sexual harassment allegations against him. Those charges were dismissed by a judge last month, who ruled that there was no evidence of "any objectively intimidating, hostile or degrading situation" having taken place. One wonders whether Calvente's accusations of misconduct, centred around his "suspicions of under-the-table payments" (as he told El País last December), are nothing more than a retaliatory strike against a former employer.

But another explanation for Calvente's finger-pointing has been offered by Podemos' former compliance lawyer, Mónica Carmena. Carmena was also fired in December 2019, and said afterwards that her and Calvente's departures were linked to Podemos leaders being aware of their investigations into the party's finances, and of the "serious harm" they could cause its reputation. This suggests that Calvente's and Carmena's sackings were preemptive strikes, made with the intention of getting them out the door before they could rummage around in the filing cabinets any more.

According to Podemos, Calvente's allegations are an attempt to "create a trial by media that lasts for months, and that then legally comes to nothing". It has a point: we shouldn't presume that there's anything in Calvente's accusations, and should regard the party as innocent until proven guilty. We should, of course, try to do the same with Juan Carlos - although his flight from Spain is hardly a convincing indication of innocence. Similarly, firing lawyers just as they're examining your party's finances might seem more than coincidental; indeed, it could be taken as an indication that they're onto something that you'd rather keep secret.

Since its formation in 2014, Podemos has deliberately distanced itself from Spain's venal Old Guard, as represented by the Popular Party and the Socialists. In order to credibly maintain that distance, it's vital that no one within the ranks is found guilty of underhand activities. In other words, Podemos' squeaky-clean public image depends upon Calvente's allegations being false - much as the Spanish monarchy's future hinges on whether there's any basis to the suspicions surrounding Juan Carlos.