The judge's daughter speaks out

María Garzón has decided to give her account of how her father trod on too many toes

María Garzón felt moved to write a book after her father was barred from Spain's courts.
María Garzón felt moved to write a book after her father was barred from Spain's courts.CRISTÓBAL MANUEL

Last month, María Garzón published Suprema Injusticia, (or, Supreme Injustice), in which the 30-year-old recounts how her father, Baltasar Garzón, the internationally renowned magistrate, was brought down by what she believes was a high-level conspiracy organized by his enemies in the Supreme Court.

María Garzón agrees to meet in a Madrid café just a stone's throw from the square that houses the High Court where for 22 years, until May 14, 2010, her father conducted some of the most famous cases in modern Spanish history. After the interview, we walk from the High Court across the Villa de Paris park to the Supreme Court: Garzón says she feels nostalgic as we pass the High Court; as we approach the Supreme Court, she says her feelings turn to "repulsion."

Talking to María Garzón, it's clear that her father's downfall has had a profound effect on her. In 2010, he found himself indicted in three different cases. An extremist rightwing group lodged complaints that he had knowingly exceeded his legal remit in asking government departments to hand over papers from the Francoist period as part of criminal proceedings he opened to allow for the victims of General Franco buried in mass graves to be given a proper burial. He was also accused of improperly receiving payment from Banco Santander for a series of lectures he gave in New York in 2005 while on study leave. He was then accused of illegally recording a conversation held in prison between a lawyer and one of the accused at the center of the Gürtel corruption case involving accusations of kickbacks for contracts within the Popular Party (PP).

Garzón charges that the lawyers were effectively acting as messengers. In Spain, as elsewhere, such a violation of rights is only permitted in extreme cases. Garzón was accused of having committed "sustained perversion of justice" by using controversial methods in his efforts to shed light on a corruption scandal that has absorbed the Spanish political establishment for years.

The victims of these secret recordings struck back by filing a joint complaint against Garzón. And they have powerful friends. Indeed, among those accused in the bribery scandal are some in the upper ranks of the conservative PP, whose leader, Mariano Rajoy, became the country's prime minister last December.

The plaintiffs' lawyers employed a special provision from Spanish procedural law to file a complaint "from the people," which allowed the action against Garzón to go forward. The Public Prosecutor's Office, on the other hand, doesn't see anything in Garzón's actions that warranted criminal prosecution and instead argued for his acquittal.

The people at the top of Spain's justice system are more interested in politics"

Commenting on the international outcry over the suspension handed down to Garzón, the then chief justice and head of the General Council of the Judiciary, Carlos Dívar, pointed to a conspiracy against the judge, noting the involvement of what he called "interested parties" in the case. But as María Garzón notes, Dívar did nothing at the time, and following his resignation over accusations he used public money to pay for private trips to Marbella, his view on what went on behind the scenes is no longer relevant.

She says she has not commented on the Dívar case with her father, but says the decision by the Public Prosecutor's Office not to investigate the allegations against him in May did not surprise her. "I think the Spanish justice system is out of touch with the realities of everyday life. There are professionals who do their job, but the people at the top are more interested in politics than anything else."

María Garzón first spoke out about her father in February, following the Supreme Court's decision to disbar the judge for 11 years over the Gürtel case, sending an open letter to a number of media outlets titled: To those toasting today with champagne, a warning: "We will never shed a tear for what you have done; we wouldn't give you the pleasure."

During his 22 years in the High Court, Garzón oversaw a series of high-profile cases: he investigated the role of the Socialist Party government of Felipe González in the dirty war against ETA in the 1980s; cases involving international drugs trafficking and money laundering; as well as playing a key role in breaking up the myriad satellite organizations that provided funds and support for ETA. He also ordered the arrest of former Chilean military ruler General Augusto Pinochet. Through his investigations of Argentinean junta leaders, Garzón helped to end Argentinean amnesty laws that protected military officials who had committed crimes against humanity. He also stoked the ire of many in the United States by trying to call US President George W. Bush and six advisors to account for abusive interrogation techniques practiced at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay. Documents released by the whistle-blowing platform WikiLeaks have revealed that US Embassy officials made repeated attempts to get Spanish authorities to rein in Garzón's investigations. More recently, he helped dismantle several radical Islamist groups with links to Al Qaeda. He was dubbed the country's "star judge" by the media.

He had considered running for the presidency of the High Court, but lacked support. Ironically, colleagues in the judiciary say the appointment would have been the best way to tie his hands as the post is largely jurisdictional and its incumbent cannot open investigations.

In the event, Garzón's downfall was triggered by his attempts to investigate the crimes committed during Spain's Civil War era. The charges resulted from Garzón's decision to break a taboo - and the unspoken pact of all parties when it came to the war and the Franco dictatorship. He chose to ignore the Spanish amnesty law of 1977 in favor of international law - and allow investigations into the tens of thousands of Franco opponents who went missing.

Garzón, the gung-ho investigating judge, was nicknamed "the prince" by his peers

But the witch hunt against Garzón only really got going in earnest two years ago, when he brought to light illegal financing activities related to the Popular Party. At that time, even judges known for their progressive leanings saw an opportunity to finally get rid of Garzón. For the crusading judge had also made himself an unpopular figure among the Socialists on the other side of the political divide. In the mid-1990s, he led a series of investigations into whether senior Interior Ministry officials in the governments of Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González (1982-1996) had organized death squads against ETA, the Basque separatist militant group.

Indeed, by picking fights with people across the entire political spectrum, the gung-ho investigating magistrate earned the nickname "the prince," an unflattering nod to Machiavelli's ruthless and conniving character, and stoked the jealousy of many.

-- Why do you think so many people hated your father?

-- There are a lot of people in this country who limit themselves to simply obeying orders; they go to work, do their job, put in their time and leave it at that. They dislike those who try to do more. They are envious in a way. In private, my father is shy and funny, but he has a certain gravitas. He is always serious about what he says - he believes what he says. I think that what has happened is that my father no longer served any purpose. ETA is finished, a process that he played a big role in. He made the right wing very unhappy over the Gürtel and Franco cases, as well as annoying many on the left who had personal grievances against him. Then there is the way that he went about getting things done: for example, boarding a ship in the high seas to capture pirates. He rubbed people up the wrong way.

-- Has it ever occurred to you that your father might have taken on cases that were really too much for one person to deal with?

-- I used to ask myself, why does he work so hard, beyond what is human? But the fact is that he managed to get things done. Around 90 percent of the cases that he investigated were approved by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He is an idealist. He believes in international justice. If he sees an injustice and nobody is doing anything about it, he has to do something. I'm the same. Organized crime does not respect frontiers. He believes that the same applies to justice.

A lot of people just obey orders; they dislike those who try to do more”

Listening to María Garzón talk, her father's influence is clear. But she insists she is able to see him in objective terms. "We disagree about some things; he is more traditional in his outlook than I am. When he faced the accusations about the New York courses, I spoke to his accountant. I knew that my father was honest, but I wanted to know for sure..."

María Garzón is critical of her father's fondness for hunting, and believes it got him into trouble. In her book she details the consequences of the hunting trip Garzón went on in early 2009, at which the then Socialist government's Justice Minister Mariano Fernández Bermejo was present. The rightwing media seized upon the event, suggesting that Garzón's investigation into the Gürtel case was politically motivated.

María Garzón was personally affected by the New York lecture tour. The judge overseeing the case included her in the indictment. She had set up a marketing agency with the help of her family. They found themselves accused of setting up a front company to launder money paid to their father. Again, the rightwing media seized on the case, with accusations that Banco Santander Chairman Emilio Botín had been invited to María's wedding, and had paid for the reception, as well as buying the newlyweds a house. "I have never seen Botín in my life, and my mortgage is with BBVA," replies María Garzón.

As a result of the publicity surrounding the allegations, Garzón received a letter from someone threatening to murder María unless the courts released a prisoner being held in remand on terrorism charges. For a time, she was given police protection.

Over the course of the conversation a long list emerges of potential enemies within the two main political parties who would be glad to see the back of Garzón. In 1993, the judge stood as a candidate for the Socialist Party in the elections of that year. But when he failed to get a ministerial post, and was instead tasked with overseeing the National Drugs Plan, he returned to the High Court in 1994. "I never liked the idea of him going into politics. I told him at the time, and have told him since."

-- Is there any Prime Minister that your father has not come into conflict with as a result of his activities as judge?

-- It's a simple as this: when he sees something wrong, he speaks out. The dirty war against ETA, the war against Iraq under Aznar... When Zapatero took office we hoped things might change, but when he mishandled the economic crisis, my father told him so.

-- You say in your book that your father didn't believe that Felipe González was necessarily directing the dirty war against ETA in the 1980s.

-- He has always made clear that he did not accuse González of direct involvement. There were high-level people involved, but it could have been anybody. But my father has had no contact with González since he left politics. They are not friends, but they occasionally meet at conferences, and talk. When he left politics, my father said in his resignation letter: "I am going because you have used me to help win an election, but you have not allowed me to do what I had promised the electorate, and I do not see any way to develop the plan against drug trafficking that we had agreed upon." The two of them disagreed, but they have since talked things through like adults; I don't think the same happened with Aznar.

-- In the book you also detail the investigation that your father led in 1995 to prevent an operation to assassinate King Juan Carlos. Do you think the king owes his life to your father?

-- From what he has told me, I think that the assassination plot was well advanced, so I would say that he does owe his life to my father. But not just to my father, but to the police who carried out the arrests and the investigation. But there was a serious risk, contrary to what the media have said.

-- Do you know if the king has thanked him?

-- I believe so. I think that they have spoken, but I can't say for sure.

María Garzón says one of the things that motivated her to write her book were the conversations with her father every evening when she was a teenager after watching the evening news. She also remembers helping him to translate documents into English when he was preparing the extradition case against General Pinochet. She says her father has spent most of his time outside Spain since May.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the head prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, insists the world needs judges like Garzón, prepared to confront the powerful around the world. After Garzón was forced to vacate his office in the High Court, Ocampo hired him to serve as an advisor to the ICC on Latin American issues.

"He spends a lot of time in Colombia and Ecuador. He won't be coming back to Spain any time soon. I think that this is best for the moment." She says that since he was barred from practicing in Spain, he is no longer entitled to police protection. She has even considered moving abroad herself. "But I don't think that it is realistic from a professional perspective, nor would it be the just thing to do. We have to stay and to change things from within."

María Garzón believes Spain's legal system is in need of a major overhaul. "The changes that the rest of the country has undergone over the last 35 years have not affected the judiciary, which is still largely run along the same lines as it was under Franco. As with other aspects of the Constitution, change is required. This is something else that my father talks about."

María Garzón and her family are now waiting for the result of an appeal to the Constitutional Court challenging the sentence in the Gürtel case. Depending on the court's ruling, they will then take the case before the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights. "That court will have a very different take on the affair," she says. "The sentence itself will not be overthrown, but the court will decide on whether the trial was fair or not. Outside Spain, nobody can understand what has happened. Certain people wanted to get rid of him, but all they have done is turn my father into a martyr."

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