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No oasis

Corruption has proven to be as rife in Catalonia as in the rest of the country

The Socialist Manuel Bustos resigned as mayor of Sabadell on Thursday in response to his alleged implication in a corruption network, which is the object of the so-called Mercurio case. On the same day, The Catalan nationalist mayor of Sant Hilari Sacalm was arrested for his suspected involvement in another public-private graft affair, the Pokemon case. The member of Catalonia's regional parliament and former nationalist mayor of Lloret de Mar, Xavier Crespo, has seen how his support for Russian mobsters has become public knowledge. And the case in which Jordi Pujol Ferrusola is accused of money-laundering is taking on a farcical hue with the revelation that his former lover's conversation with Catalan Popular Party leader Alicia Sánchez-Camacho was recorded with a hidden microphone, allegedly at the behest of former Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) secretary José Zaragoza.

Then there is Jordi Pujol Ferrusola's brother and the current secretary general of Convergència, Oriol Pujol, who is dogged by a possible indictment for his role in the ITV vehicle-licensing concession scheme. In the other half of the CiU nationalist bloc, some Unió officials diverted European Union funds for the creation of employment into their own party coffers. Old colleagues of Jordi Pujol Sr. — the former premier of Catalonia and father of the Pujol Ferrusola brothers — such as Maciá Alavedra and Lluís Prenafeta, remain indicted over accusations of corrupt property deals involving the former Socialist mayor of Santa Coloma.

This is merely a brief summary of current affairs in Catalonia. Corruption has become a fixture in the region, like a fine drizzle: persistent but imperceptible unless something is done to draw attention to the number of cases and bring such practices to a halt. This same affliction blights all of Spain's regions, and Catalonia is no exception.

And we are not only dealing with medium-sized scandals. The Palau case, in which 30 million euros of funds were funneled through a Barcelona auditorium and which has led to a court embargo being placed on Convergència's headquarters, is a major case of corruption, even by recent Spanish standards. The Gürtel-Bárcenas affair, which is eroding trust in the honesty of the ruling Popular Party, and the Andalusian Socialists' layoff fund scam are further examples. Unlike what Jordi Pujol and his nationalist successor, Artur Mas, would have us believe, Catalonia is sadly not an oasis in the desert that is corrupt Spain. The sheer number and weight of the cases that are coming to light fatally undermines any such argument.

In a bid to refute this logical conclusion, the Catalan premier has made a rather pathetic show of his supposed willingness to fight against fraud, appearing in a series of photo opportunities with judges and prosecutors. Just like the pointless claim of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to transparency by publishing his tax returns, this is merely a publicity stunt. Only action will do. Health Minister Ana Mato remains in her post, despite the evidence that she received gifts from the Gürtel network. And Mas's team still includes Joana Ortega, who passed herself off as a graduate instead of a typist. (The German education minister recently stepped down over a similar case of deception.)

Mas and the Pujols argue that the corruption cases are being deliberately used to undermine the cause of independence, which Convergència has recently championed. Perhaps there are some who have schemed in this way. But it is hard to imagine an independent Catalonia with those leaders at the helm being any cleaner than the one they have governed now for a quarter of a century.

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