Article by Fernando Betancor.
22 June 2016
Spanish online periodical Público.es revealed yesterday that it had access to recorded conversations between the Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz and the Head of the Anti-Fraud Office in Catalonia, Daniel de Alfonso, in which the former requires Mr. de Alfonso to investigate the officials and families of the pro-independence Catalan parties Esquerra Republicana and Convergéncia Democrática even to the extent of manipulating evidence. The conversations took place in 2014 on the eve of the banned independence referendum of 9-N and made it clear that the intention of the Minister was not to uncover corruption, but to persecute a political witch hunt.
The released recordings took place during two meetings between the Interior Minister and the Head of the Anti-Fraud Office on the 9thand 16th of October, 2014. Mr. Fernández Díaz states clearly that he is looking for any material that can be used to humiliate and discredit the leaders of the pro-independence party Esquerra Repúblicana (ERC). He does not limit his scope to the leaders either; he is heard asking for investigations of ERC President Oriol Junqueras’ father and brother, as well as two sisters-in-law of Francesc Homs, then the Chief Counsellor to the Office of the Catalan President and a member of Convergéncia Democrática (CDC).
At one point, the Mr. Fernández Díaz raises the issue of irregularities in the financing of public contracts across Catalan municipalities and states that surely there is “dirt” to be found there. When he is informed by Mr. de Alfonso that there is plenty of dirt, but only in those municipalities connected with the Catalan Socialists (PSC) not in those run by the ERC, he dismisses the evidence and tells his subordinate to keep digging. The Interior Minister dismisses evidence of wrong-doing by the Socialist Party because it would detract from his smear campaign against his targeted political opponents.
Throughout the conversations, Mr. de Alfonso is continuously urged to use outside sources to dig up information, sympathetic members of the police, contacts in the media (Grupo Planeta) and other “friends”, in order to keep a safe and deniable distance between himself and any resulting investigation. And when Mr. de Alfonso expressed reservations regarding possible repercussions of his activities, the Interior Minister was quick to calm him by asserting: “Don’t worry, the President (Mariano Rajoy) knows. I have informed him.”
The government’s response to the revelations was immediate and true to form:
1. Mr. Fernández Díaz denied everything and claimed he was a victim of a pre-election smear campaign (yes, that is textbook irony);
2. Mr. Rajoy denied everything and claimed he had only just heard of the released tapes;
3. The government announced that it was launching an investigation of Público.es to determine who was responsible for taping the minister and subsequently passing them on to the press.
These are shocking revelations – or they should be, even for a country as jaded as Spain. Mr. Fernández Díaz is guilty of a number of sanctionable offenses:
1. He has abused his power and his office to persecute political opponents even when there is no evidence to support any investigation;
2. He is guilty of gross dereliction of duty in refusing to follow-up on evidence of possible PSC malfeasance in favor of his pursuit of his preferred targets;
3. He has likely violated the civil rights of a number of Spanish citizens, family members of ERC and CDC leaders, who have been investigated and spied on without a Court warrant or other judicial authorization for no other reason than their consanguinity with pro-independence politicians.
The Catalan Parliament reacted quickly, with President of the Chamber Carmé Forcadell leading the vote to demand Mr. de Alonso’s resignation. In any normal country, Mr. Fernández Díaz would also have handed in his resignation the very same morning; and his revelation that Mr. Rajoy was aware of his activities should have cost his boss his job as well. But this is Spain: the Interior Minister is likely to stay in office for another six months if Sunday’s elections result in another indecisive Parliament. It is an unfortunate truth that Spanish politicians have to be caught committing murder in delicto fragante for them to be forced out of office for any reason other than internal party realignments.
Of course there is a political angle to the timing of the recordings’ release. Público was founded by Jaume Roures, a noted left-wing Catalan activist and businessman who owns the publisher, Mediapro. His support for socialist causes and, more recently, for Podemos is well known. It is interesting to speculate just how long these tapes have been in his possession; but it seems likely that they were only made available after the 20 December elections, else he would have already published them. The publishers and owners of Público undoubtedly hope that the resulting scandal will damage the Partido Popular in Sunday’s election; but this political motivation does not detract one iota from the blatant violation of the rule of law and democratic governance that the Partido Popular has perpetrated: and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It is too much to hope that there will be any resignation much less an investigation into wrong-doing. In fact, it is too much to hope that there will be very severe electoral repercussions on Sunday: outside off Catalonia, where the Partido Popular is going to be crushed anyway, the average Spaniard might very well applaud the Minister rather than censure him. As long as the witch hunt is directed against the Catalans, that is. Yet those very same powers are not just being used against the Catalans: they are daily used against the Occupy Movement, against Podemos and against other Spanish citizens who dare to question the regime. What else was the “Ley Mordaza” rammed through Parliament for, with every other political party and Europe in opposition?
That is why a reporter for Catalunya Radio, Mercé Alcocer, was fined under said law for directing questions to Mr. Pujol-Ferrusola as the latter was leaving a Barcelona courthouse after giving testimony. Ms. Alcocer was charged with “a grave infraction of disobedience of authority” for doing her job as a press reporter. Of course, under the Gag Law, the police are judge, jury and executioner: there is no judicial review or appeal possible. Such is the state of press freedom and the rule of law in Spain.
But the rule of law has never bothered the Partido Popular much; nor, for that matter, the Spanish Socialist Party. They are both the architects and inheritors of a corrupt political system, erected on the bedrock of the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, which – while introducing democratic reforms – nevertheless preserved the economic, social and political power of the elites that ran the country under the dictator. Change has come very slowly to Spain; and in many areas, not at all. The rule of law is for the common run of mortals, not for the politicians of either party, which is why the both parties condone the illegal financing of their campaigns, the illegal influence peddling between the parties and the IBEX15 companies, the rampant nepotism and “amiguismo”, the awarding of large public contracts without tender, the illegal rezoning of protected lands for commercial development by “enchufados”. It is a system which is rotten to the core, which is legalistic yet not law-abiding, and which transcends the two traditional political parties.
Is it any wonder that pro-independence Catalans can’t help from laughing when politicians like Mariano Rajoy lecture them on the paramount need to “respect the rule of law” in a democracy? The assertion is absolutely and undeniably true: both Mariano Rajoy and Jorge Fernández Díaz should show their adherence to it by handing in their resignations today.