JUDGE GARZÓN ON TRIAL

Garzón Banco Santander bribery charges dropped

Supreme Court justice rules that case has timed out Controversial judge still awaits Franco-probe decision

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to drop criminal charges against suspended Judge Baltasar Garzón stemming from a complaint that he took money from Banco Santander chairman Emilio Botín to organize a series of lectures at New York University.

Deciding that the statute of limitations had run out, Justice Manuel Marchena shelved the third case Garzón was facing at the Supreme Court in a series of complaints that had been filed against him by private citizens and rightwing organizations.

Last week, Garzón was thrown off the court bench for 11 years after he was convicted of breaching his judicial duties and violating the constitutional rights of several public corruption defendants linked to the Gürtel inquiry when he ordered wiretaps of their jailhouse conversations with their lawyers. The suspended High Court judge has said that he plans on appealing the case before the Constitutional Court and even the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The seven top court justices are still deliberating whether Garzón should also be sanctioned in another case for opening an inquiry in 2008 on crimes committed during the 1936-39 Civil War and the subsequent 1939-75 Francisco Franco dictatorship. That trial concluded on Wednesday with testimony from the survivors and family members of loved ones who disappeared or were executed by Nationalist forces.

In the Santander case, a complaint was filed charging that Garzón had accepted money to organize a series of lectures on human rights at New York University between 2005 and 2006 while he was on a leave of absence from the High Court. The allegations focused on speculation that the judge took the money in exchange for dropping a tax fraud investigation against Botín.

The plaintiff was asking that Garzón be given a five-year prison sentence plus a 30-year suspension from the bench.

On January 27, Justice Marchena ruled that Garzón did not breach his bench duties for shelving the Botín case because his reasoning was based on jurisprudence. However, Marchena left the door open for a determination on whether the passive bribery charge – receiving gifts or other benefits on the basis of the high position he holds – should stick.

The Supreme Court chief prosecutor had asked that the charges be dropped after determining there was no basis to the passive bribery charge.

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