Judges from all levels of the Spanish court system accepted pay from Ausbanc, a consumer rights group whose leader has been arrested on extortion charges, for delivering lectures at various public events.
Magistrates from the High Court, the Supreme Court, provincial and regional courts received between €800 and €1,500 depending on the type of seminar and the venue, several judges have admitted. Some of the events ended with a meal or a wine tasting.
In recent years, Pineda’s association has filed numerous lawsuits in dozens of courts on behalf of its members. Some of the judges overseeing these cases have participated in Ausbanc events.
I conveyed to them that I didn’t want to get paid, but they really insisted, saying they had a budget allocation for it
High Court judge
Some speakers refused the money, and instead instructed Ausbanc to transfer the amount to a charity.
All the biggest events were personally presided by Ausbanc president Luis Pineda, who was arrested on Friday on suspicion that he was threatening banks and individuals with negative media coverage unless they took out expensive advertising in his specialized magazines.
A spokesman for the financial consumer association said no judge was ever paid to participate in an Ausbanc symposium.
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But investigators suspect that by hiring judges to act as guest speakers at his events, Pineda was trying to create a bond with individuals who might later preside over the lawsuits that he pressed in the name of his association members.
Several members of the judiciary were also contributors to Ausbanc’s publications. In some of his threatening letters to lenders, Pineda noted that judges “of the kind that slap people with fines” were writing for him.
Carlos Lesmes, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and chairman of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the legal profession’s watchdog, has declined to comment on the numerous payments made by Ausbanc to Spanish judges.
But legal sources have said that, privately, Lesmes has occasionally expressed concern over this paid work at events that are often organized by big law firms. The CGPJ has sometimes denied permission to attend these kinds of seminars.
Travel expenses included
In 2013, Ausbanc organized an event at a Madrid hotel called Retos de la Audiencia Nacional del siglo XXI (Challenges facing the High Court in the 21st century). Several judges from Spain’s central criminal court attended the seminar. One of them has told EL PAÍS that he refused to accept payment.
“They were paying us between €800 and €1,000,” says this judge, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They called me the next day to know how they should send me the money, and I told them I didn’t feel I should charge anything. I conveyed to them that I didn’t want to get paid, but they really insisted, saying they had a budget allocation for it, so I finally gave them the account number for Doctors Without Borders in Mali. A few days later they sent me an email certifying that the payment had been made.”
Another judge who sits on the High Court got a call from Ausbanc a year ago to be a guest speaker at a panel discussion in the Canary Islands.
“My intuition told me I shouldn’t participate, and I turned down the invitation,” he says. “I got mad at them because they put my name on the program without permission. They told me that they would pay for the speech and the travel expenses. I can’t remember the amount.”
Javier López, president of a debt consolidation firm called CreditServices who was a victim of Ausbanc’s alleged extortion, says that one of the Supreme Court justices who oversaw his suit against Pineda participated in legal seminars organized by the consumer association.
English version by Susana Urra.