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Gürtel on the slow burner

Five years after the arrest of Correa, the courts are still entangled in the web of corruption

It has now been five years since the ringleaders of the Gürtel corruption network, Francisco Correa and Pablo Crespo, were arrested. This anniversary, after a half-decade of judicial proceedings, prompts two reflections: the close link between a political party and a corruption network of huge dimensions, and the exasperating slowness of the courts, which in all this time have issued only one conviction: the suspension of the judge who initiated the proceedings, Baltasar Garzón.

What the Popular Party described in 2009 as a conspiracy against it, organized by the then-Socialist government with the connivance of judges and politicians, has by 2014 developed into a major corruption case which has seen the removal of several political figures from their posts: the Valencia regional premier Francisco Camps; the senator and former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas; the congressional deputy Rafael Merino; a former regional department head; several regional parliamentarians; and a handful of mayors, among others. Almost 200 people targeted in investigations are awaiting trial, including dozens of former PP officials.

The different judicial proceedings, each with their respective ramifications, pose unresolved questions with regard to the PP leadership’s implication in its own irregular financing, with diversions of large amounts of public money into the party coffers and into the pockets of those through whose hands the cash passed. The PP, far from clarifying the excesses of the past, has preferred the policy of the ostrich, disregarding plain facts and doing its best to torpedo the action of the courts by dragging out the proceedings even longer than is habitual in our country’s judicial system.

The Gürtel case is certainly a complex one. By now it is the largest in the history of the National High Court, running to more than 2,000 volumes, involving the largest number of appeals on record and passing through the hands of half a dozen judges in four different courts. Dozens of judicial requests, passing from one jurisdiction to another, are aimed at disentangling the complex network of money-laundering set up by the principal accused parties, in several countries on three continents. In spite of all this, there is still no end in sight to the proceedings.

The Spanish legal system’s scrupulous respect for due process, and the abuse of repeated appeals on the part of the various defense counsels, are the fundamental causes of this exaggerated torpor. Cases that drag on forever in the Spanish courts are far too many in number. The latest such case is that concerning the conviction of two tax inspectors and a former president of the Barcelona soccer club, Josep Lluís Núñez, a process lasting 15 years that has now finally been reviewed by the Supreme Court, which reduced the sentences, among other reasons, on account of undue delays in the inquiry.

The Núñez tax fraud case is just another demonstration of how the exasperating slowness of the system is harmful to justice in particular — and to politics in general — in that the sheer accumulation of unresolved cases and individuals under suspicion tends to convey a distorted picture of the real level of corruption existing in our country.

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