JUDICIAL SCANDAL

Beleaguered chief justice sticks to script at anniversary event

Dívar expected to step down Thursday after losing support of CGPJ Council chief insists on innocence in interview with daily 'El Mundo'

Prince Felipe and Chief Justice Carlos Dívar at Monday's ceremony.
Prince Felipe and Chief Justice Carlos Dívar at Monday's ceremony.REUTERS (POOL)

Spain's chief justice, Carlos Dívar, made no references to the storm that has engulfed him over recent weeks in a speech he made on Monday during a ceremony to celebrate the bicentenary of the Supreme Court. Prince Felipe of Asturias was in attendance at the Madrid event after King Juan Carlos bowed out at the last minute, to travel to Jeddah to visit the Saudi royal family after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz on Saturday.

Dívar, who is also the president of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) legal watchdog, is expected to announce his resignation on Thursday after becoming embroiled in an expenses scandal.

It emerged that Carlos Dívar had charged a series of expensive weekend trips to luxury destinations such as Marbella to the public purse, despite his official obligations on such jaunts lasting just a few hours in many cases.

As well as the prince, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría was present at the event, as was Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and the attorney general, Eduardo Torres-Dulce.

In his speech, Dívar offered a brief history of the Supreme Court, starting with the signing in 1812 of the Constitution of Cádiz. He said that the celebration of 200 years of the Supreme Court shows that "it has managed to maintain its function in terms of judging and making sure that what has been judged is executed."

The chief justice announced that he will make an "emphatic" decision on Thursday

Prince Felipe conveyed "an affectionate greeting" on the part of the king to the attendees of the ceremony, and spoke of the "fundamental importance" of the Supreme Court "within a framework of the separation of powers in the structure of the new liberal state."

But the ceremony, which had been billed as the culminating event of the career of Carlos Dívar, who has spent months planning the celebrations, was instead proof of the isolation he has been subject to since the expenses scandal first broke at the beginning of May.

The chief justice's speech received a lukewarm response, with many of the attendees not even applauding. Many of those present kept their distance from Dívar throughout the event.

The chief justice only stayed for 15 minutes after the ceremony, and when asked on his way out by news agency Efe as to whether this would be his last official act as head of the Supreme Court, he simply answered: "I don't know, I don't know."

The commemoration of the bicentenary marks the beginning of the end of Dívar's mandate, given that he has now lost the support of the majority of the CGPJ panel. The chief justice announced at the weekend that he will make an "emphatic" decision on Thursday, which most have interpreted to mean that he will finally be announcing his resignation.

Dívar has been embroiled in this scandal since the beginning of May after he failed to provide sufficient explanations for the 32 trips he made to luxury restaurants and hotels in Marbella and other locations, which cost the public purse 30,000 euros. Despite the fact that he initially received the support of 11 of the 15 panel members from the Supreme Court, which turned down a complaint against him from an association of lawyers, he has since been reprimanded by all of Spain's legal associations, 17 senior judges and more than 20,000 private citizens.

However, in an interview published Monday with Spanish daily El Mundo, Dívar still maintained that he had done nothing wrong and that "a campaign had been orchestrated" against him. "I chose the weekends because that's when I can travel," he told the paper. "The other days I have to be in the CGPJ or the Supreme Court."

The personal costs on the trips, he explained, where covered out of his pocket. "I am not in the least bit conscious of having committed any infraction nor having strayed from the rules established by the CGPJ," he said.

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