Weekend-jaunt judge under scrutiny

Attorney general investigates 20 trips to Marbella that were charged to the judiciary

When, in 2008, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero appointed Carlos Dívar to head the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) legal watchdog - a position that automatically includes the post of Supreme Court chief justice - there were a lot of grumblings on the bench.

Dívar was practically an unknown. The Málaga-born judge wasn't recognized for any important decisions; he had never issued a written opinion. Serving seven years as chief judge on the national High Court, he had never been on any multi-judge panel that ruled on high-profile cases - another important requisite for anyone named to preside over the Supreme Court. His role was more that of an administrative judge.

The other justices on the Supreme Court were upset by Zapatero's decision because they felt that the appointment should have been made from within. So it comes as no surprise that no other bench member rushed to his defense this week when a fellow CGPJ member filed a complaint against Dívar with Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce for alleged misuse of public funds.

Dívar was first accused of charging 5,658 euros to the judiciary to pay for six long weekend getaways in Marbella between September 2010 and November 2011. A complaint filed by José Manuel Gómez Benítez, a CGPJ member, alleges that none of the four-day trips were for official business.

Then on Thursday, Gómez Benítez expanded his complaint when he discovered 14 other trips Dívar took from 2008 until March of this year, with a grand total of 18,654 euros charged to the judiciary.

Dívar is said to have stayed in a luxurious hotel in Puerto Banús, and charged expensive dinners for two to the judiciary's coffers

Dívar stayed in a luxurious hotel in Puerto Banús, and charged expensive dinners for two to the judiciary's coffers, the complaint states. Even though he took the AVE high-speed train, riding in business class, the judiciary had to pay for lodgings and meals for his bodyguards, and also dispatched official vehicles to Marbella for his use.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, the chief justice denied that he misused his expense account, explaining that there was a difference between personal expenses, which he says he paid out of his own pocket, and official expenses, "which are perfectly documented and justified," and were submitted to a government accountant for review. He called the 5,658-euro amount in question "chicken feed."

Nevertheless, the Attorney General's Office said that it would make a decision by next week whether to file charges against Dívar with the Supreme Court, which by law has the power to investigate and try him. The entire affair has cast a bad light on one of the nation's top judicial officers, who considers himself upright and deeply religious.

The 70-year-old chief justice didn't have any enemies before coming to the Supreme Court bench. After studying law in Deusto and Valladolid, he served as a judge in Castuera (Badajoz) and Orgaz (Toledo) and was later appointed to the High Court, where he served for 28 years investigating organized crime and terrorism. But journalists who have covered the court for three decades say that Dívar's work never produced any big news.

But in 2009, he finally made headlines when he broke a historic deadlock among the members of the CGPJ over Zapatero's proposed abortion bill by voting against it. Sources at the CGPJ at the time said that it was Dívar's religious convictions that prompted him to cast his vote against the relaxation of the law submitted by the government. One of the most controversial points was to allow 16-year-old girls access to the procedure without having to obtain the consent of their parents. The bill was redrafted by the executive.

A lifelong bachelor, Dívar doesn't belong to any professional associations but engages in activities where he can express his strong Catholic convictions. He makes trips to the Holy Land, often returning with wooden rosaries for his co-workers.

Like many who have served on the High Court, Dívar was on terrorist group ETA's list of targets. Some years ago, on May 13, an ETA commando unit placed a car bomb along one of the two routes Dívar usually took to get to the High Court in Madrid. But that day he went a different way, and the bomb was discovered and deactivated before it went off.

The judge has since attributed this failure of this attempt on his life to a miracle performed by the Virgin of Fatima, because it was her feast on the day of the incident - a parallel interpretation given by Pope John Paul II after the pontiff barely survived an assassin's bullet on the virgin's feast day in 1981.

Dívar has given religious conferences at the Madrid Archdiocese concerning how to be a good Christian while leading a public life. In a paper posted on the Brotherhood of the Valley of the Fallen's website entitled "Justice and John Paul II," the judge touches on such themes as divine justice, God's law, judicial independence, matrimony, family and abortion.

In the end he writes: "You will find the only true justice by solely loving God and letting him love you while leading a coherent and upright life."