Luis Bárcenas is serving 33 years for his involvement in the Gurtel case. SUR
No confidence

No confidence

Minister Fernando Díaz is accused of involvement in spying on then-Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas

Mark Naylor

Friday, 3 March 2023, 14:41


We were reminded this week - as we often are in Spain - of the worst, but nevertheless most popular, defence to use if you're a high-profile politician accused of involvement in corruption: complete ignorance.

Spanish prosecutors are seeking a prison term of fifteen years for former Interior Minister Fernando Díaz, who served under Conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy between 2011 and 2016. Díaz is accused of involvement in spying on then-Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who himself is serving a 33-year sentence for his involvement in the so-called Gurtel case. Díaz's alleged informant, codenamed The Cook, (hence the case being nicknamed Operation Kitchen), was allegedly tasked with finding out if Bárcenas held documents that could incriminate other senior PP officials.

Díaz, now 72, claims he knew nothing about Operation Kitchen. Rajoy also employed this 'defence' in connection with Gurtel when he became the first ever Spanish prime minister to appear as a witness in a criminal trial in 2017. In other words, two of the PP's most senior members claim to have known nothing about a level of corruption so widespread within their party that the PP as a whole was fined 245,000 euros by Spain's high court for financially benefiting from the Gurtel schemes. If they really did have no idea, that doesn't exactly do wonders for their reputation or credibility (the Gurtel network was found to be in operation until 2006, two years after Rajoy became leader of the PP).

In scale and detail, Spain's political corruption is like an enormous, overwhelming painting - Picasso's Guernica in the Reina Sofia, say, or Jan Matejko's nine metre-long masterpiece, The Battle of Vienna, in the Vatican Museums. You have to stand back and contemplate the thing as a whole to really appreciate it.

When you do, it's incredible to behold: here we see one high-ranking politician allegedly engaged in illegal activity to stop another high-ranking politician, now found to have been guilty of illegal activity, dishing dirt on other prominent members of the same party who may also have been guilty of illegal activity. To use an even more appropriate metaphor, Operation Kitchen grew off the back of the Gurtel case like a fungal infection. In that metaphor, the spores represent PP politicians.

Pedro Sánchez sailed into office in 2018 on a strong anti-corruption platform after tabling and winning a no-confidence vote against a Gurtel-stricken Rajoy. But this week saw Vox propose such a vote against Sánchez's Socialist-led coalition over the party's alleged involvement in the 'Mediator' scandal - described by the PP as a tale of «drugs, prostitution and corruption» in the Canary Islands.

Neither the Spanish right or left, it seems, is in a position to propose no-confidence votes against the other side. Perhaps what's really needed is a vote of no confidence against the entire political establishment.

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