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Party spokesman in a precarious situation

The Supreme Court Prosecutor's Office endorses the investigation into José Blanco

The Supreme Court prosecutor's office has expressed its support for an investigation into the supposed involvement of the acting public works minister and government spokesman, José Blanco, in crimes of influence-peddling and bribery. The case relates to the Galician businessman Jorge Dorribo, who has accused the minister of the offenses. The development in the investigation, begun on the eve of the general elections, brings the case into sharper focus.

The Supreme Court, which received the detailed opinion of Lugo Judge Estela San José on the evidence pointing to Blanco, has not yet declared itself competent to try the case, nor has an examining judge yet been designated. Nor has Blanco been summoned to testify, or had a chance to give his version of the facts in court. He is not facing any charges. The criminal proceedings that implicate him have so far been conducted, by reason of his parliamentary immunity, independently of the minister, who has had no official notification of their existence. But the endorsement by the Supreme Court Prosecutor's Office of the Lugo judge's action, and the request to the Court that it pursue the investigation, implies that it sees plausibility in the evidence pointing to the minister, and that it is prepared to formerly accuse him of wrongdoing.

The question now facing Blanco is whether his anomalous procedural situation — a minister who has not yet been called to testify and has not been charged, but whom the prosecutor considers susceptible of investigation — is compatible with his occupation of a public office as prominent as that of government spokesman. To this effect it is immaterial that the government is an acting one, with two or three weeks of life ahead of it, and a like number of Cabinet meetings. It is not immaterial, however, that it is Blanco who will be telling us of the last decisions made by the Zapatero government before stepping down.

The accusation hanging over the minister, of which there is now public acknowledgement due to the Supreme Court Prosecutor's decision to recommend that the Court look into it, does not square very well with the function of spokesman. It does not matter that so far he has not appeared before a judge, or been charged; or that he has learned of the judicial proceedings affecting him by means of a strange media-judicial conjunction occurring on the eve of the elections. Nor is it of much use to deplore the fact that the Lugo judge's investigation is based solely on the complaint filed by a businessman facing corruption charges, and on unverified and decontextualized emails.

The incompatibility of this anomalous procedural situation with his functions as government spokesman is not due to legal reasons. They are reasons of a political and ethical nature, and of the image of the government as such, that urge that someone under the shadow of an accusation affecting the exercise of his functions, should cease to act as spokesman for the government.

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