Neutralizing Garzón

The Supreme Court rules in favor of the Gürtel ringleaders’ theory and disbars the judge

The conviction of Baltasar Garzón for the jailhouse wiretaps on conversations between the leaders of the Gürtel political corruption network and their lawyers was a verdict foretold in the reports written by the judge who initially investigated the misconduct case. You only need to look at those arguments and the manner in which they were expressed to understand which way the case against the high-profile judge was headed.

Whatever people’s opinions of Garzón may be, his conviction on the charge of deliberately overstepping his authority entails ending the career of a judge who performed significant services for Spanish society in the fight against terrorism, drug-trafficking and organized crime, besides his important role in developing the application of universal justice where human rights had been violated by dictatorships.

The seven Supreme Court justices who unanimously condemned Garzón are right to make an eloquent case for criminal suspects’ right to a fair defense. It was their opinion that spying on the Gürtel suspects and their lawyers, who were suspected of plotting to launder hidden funds in Switzerland, was not an error in legal interpretation, but rather an arbitrary act comparable, no less, to the “practices typical of totalitarian regimes.” If indeed Garzón’s behavior merits such recriminations, these must also be applied to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, which endorsed the wiretaps; Judge Pedreira, who maintained the practice when he took over the Gürtel investigation; and the magistrates in the Madrid High Court, who disagreed with the move to bring the phone-tapping to an end. However useful to the Supreme Court panel in terms of strengthening its condemnation of Garzón, it is absurd to suggest that the Office of the Public Prosecutor could possibly have given its support to totalitarian practices or that it had no interest in pursuing them.

The combined influence of various legal actors on Garzón, then, proves that his actions were legally defensible, even though the Madrid High Court would eventually establish that such practices were not in fact lawful. If, as the Supreme Court argues, the judge’s decisions had been perceived as criminally arbitrary, he would not have enjoyed the support of the prosecution services until the end. Garzón’s conviction makes the Office of the Public Prosecutor an accomplice in his guilt. The prosecutor in the Gürtel case shared Garzón’s suspicions of connivance in money laundering between the jailed suspects and their lawyers, and did not hesitate to use the law to prevent part of the network’s millions of euros (amassed through corrupt relations with various public administrations) being secreted away in tax havens.

The hypothesis that it was an attempt to prevent the laundering of ill-gotten gains in a case of organized crime explains Garzón’s actions. The corruption ring had ample means to elude the reach of the law, including the possible complicity of well-paid lawyers. But instead, the Supreme Court justices preferred to support the hare-brained, absurd and even offensive theory that holds that the judge sought to weaken the suspects’ “defense strategies” to such a degree as to place “the Spanish penal system on the same level as that of totalitarian regimes.” Absurd maybe, but it served the objective: eliminating Garzón as a judge.

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