JUDICIAL SCANDAL

After Dívar scandal, watchdog prepares humble "austerity plan"

CGPJ members spent over 800,000 euros on trips last year

The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) is set to unanimously approve "an austerity and transparency plan" at the first plenary meeting on Thursday following the high-profile resignation of its president over a travel expenses scandal.

The initiative aims to appease "the climate of mistrust" in the judiciary's oversight body after allegations that Carlos Dívar spent public money to pay for up to 32 private trips to Marbella and other destinations. The plan will reportedly have members travel in economy class from now on and spend no more than 102.56 euros a night for hotel rooms. Members will also have to justify their expenses.

The CGPJ last week for the first time revealed that its 20 members had spent some 830,000 euros on trips in 2011 alone. Some of these trips were made in first class and often the destination was thousands of kilometers away. The listed activities included conferences, preparatory meetings and commemorative legal events.

The agency, whose stated goal is to ensure the independence of judges, is so far refusing to provide details of how exactly its members spent their allowances for international travel. Some members, however, are choosing to make their expenses public.

Acting President Fernando de Rosa traveled to Patagonia twice in 2011, specifically to the city of Ushuaia, some 12,000 kilometers from Madrid. The return plane ticket alone cost around 3,500 euros. CPPJ sources said De Rosa participated in a national conference for the modernization and reform of the judicial system in Chile. The conference was held between May 9 and 14, and De Rosa received an official invitation from the president of Chile's Supreme Court.

Dívar spent 40,000 euros last year on a single 15-day trip to Colombia

Six months later De Rosa went to Buenos Aires for a workshop on modernizing judicial powers. He traveled with his wife, who paid for her own trip and travel expenses.

Another member, Miguel Collado, traveled to Ciudad de Leyva (Colombia) in August 2011 to attend a preparatory meeting of the General Assembly of the Network of Judicial Schools of Iberoamerica. According to Collado, the meeting was important because "difficult decisions" had to be made, which is why he did not do a video conference as on other occasions. The CGPJ only paid for the plane ticket and it was "the cheapest one," he said.

Dívar, who stepped down as CGPJ president and Supreme Court chief justice last week, spent 40,000 euros last year on a single 15-day trip to Colombia, Panama and Dominican Republic in the company of five advisors. All of them traveled in first class, at a cost of 5,500 euros per ticket. This is the trip that triggered the questions by fellow member José Manuel Gómez Benítez at the Council, and led to the complaint against him.

So far, the evidence suggests that none of the CGPJ members used the expense account to pay for weekend trips in Spain in the way Dívar did.

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