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Investigation must move quickly

The noise surrounding the Bárcenas case must not distract attention from his Swiss fortune

Parallel to the judicial proceedings in the Gürtel case, and for the moment separately from it, the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office has intervened in the Bárcenas affair by opening an investigation into the alleged “cashbox B” of the Popular Party (PP), which was highlighted in the accounting papers of the party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, who was summoned yesterday to declare. On Monday, at the prosecutor’s bidding, this newspaper handed over the Bárcenas papers, published in their entirety on February 3, as well as other documents concerning the accounting of the Madrid PP published on January 27. The editor of EL PAÍS agreed to submit the papers after receiving assurances this would not compromise the identity of the sources.

The Prosecutor’s Office is doing its duty, and it can only be asked why it did not begin earlier: for example, when it was known that Bárcenas had removed boxes of documents from the central office of the PP. The public gets the impression that in Spain there is too much delay in investigating and punishing corruption. In any case, what is now desirable is that the results be known as soon as possible, given the magnitude of the political crisis involved, its impact on Spanish society — the list of construction-related companies fuels suspicions of irregular financing — and the huge international repercussions set off by the latest episodes in the case.

Whatever the extemporizers of explanations who dream of shutting the door on the case may say, several PP officials mentioned in the handwritten accounting ledgers have admitted the truth of the entries containing their names, while others deny they are connected.

But the commotion aroused by this affair must not distract attention from another central question: the fortune accumulated by the PP’s former treasurer beyond the reach of the Spanish revenue collector. After the discovery of a first account in Switzerland, which at one point had held as much as 22 million euros, Judge Pablo Ruz, who is carrying out the investigation into the Gürtel case, has found a second Swiss bank account, from which Bárcenas paid for the regularization of part of the money embezzled in Spain, under the protection of the 2012 fiscal amnesty granted by the government.

The judge wishes to know whether some 20 other individuals implicated in the case have also availed themselves of this amnesty. It is this judge, too, who is to hear a statement from a prominent PP member, Jesús Sepúlveda, concerning the gifts and gratuities that he and his wife — Health Minister Ana Mato, from whom he is now separated — received from the Gürtel kickbacks network.

While the work of the prosecutor and the court proceeds, the Spanish political system has so far been incapable of bringing about any parliamentary discussion of the crisis caused by the alleged corruption, and by the very certain fiscal amnesty. On Monday the Popular Party vetoed the opposition’s initiatives in this respect. The governing party thus risks turning this month’s state-of-the-nation debate into a discussion on the state of the government, and of the PP.

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