Ever-present problem of corruption

Society has had to deal with political malpractice since ancient times

There is no need to go back as far as ancient Babylonia, as does the Italian author Carlo Alberto Brioschi in his book Breu història de la corrupció, published by La Campana, to know that corruption is not limited to modern day Spain, or even Catalonia. In a recent book by Josep Maria Cadena, Barcelona vista pels seus dibuixants 1888-1929, published by Àmbit, there are two cartoons, one by Joan Pellicer Montseny and another by Picarol, that reflect the high levels of corruption that the Catalan capital experienced at the beginning of the 20th century.

The first cartoon, dated 1909, shows a large lady baring her breast, slumped in a chair, with people climbing all over her. The caption below reads: public employees suckling on Barcelona. Picarol's cartoon, from 1910, shows the facade of a neo-classical building of the Barcelona city council from which hangs a banner that reads: Great business centre of Don Alejandro y Cº. The Alejandro mentioned was Alejandro Lerroux, who “turned the Casa de la Ciutat into a centre for buying and selling political decisions,” in the words of Cadena in his book. Also in his work, Cadena includes a text from 1896 in La Campana de Gràcia magazine that accuses local politicians of obtaining their seats through “tricks” rather than votes, and goes on to denounce “the scandals, the trafficking, the immorality and abuses” taking place at the time. With these antecedents, it is no surprise that the contemporary history of Catalonia also has its fair share of corrupt officials: Bartomeu Muñoz (Santa Coloma de Gramenet), Manuel Bustos (Sabadell) or Xavier Crespo (Lloret de Mar) are only a few examples of modern malfeasance.

It is clear that the current explosion of corruption at all levels has appeared now that democracy is no longer a novelty and when the unpopular corrupt practices of the Franco dictatorship are now fading in the memory. In fact, it almost seems as if certain officials have been waiting for this to happen before going back to the bad habits of making money from public construction projects in particular. Whatever the situation, a link with Spain's dark past exists, as can be seen from the fact that the man who in 1960 ended up in prison for accusing Franco of corruption should now be at the top of the list of those under investigation for defrauding the pubic purse. The Jordi Pujol case has, after many years of rumour and reports, emerged into the light, at a time when public trust is at an all time low and the only option appears to be cut it off at the root or allow it to become systemic.

The Pujol affair has definitively thrust Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) into the spotlight of suspicion, when it was thought that the party's allies, Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC), were more likely to be guilty of abuse due to situations in the past such as the “cas Turisme”, in which UDC party members were accused of pocketing public money.

Obviously some corruption will always exist, including illegal party funding, but the problem facing prosecutors and lawyers when these suspicions are investigated is to provide clear evidence of links between corrupt practices and the party finance structure. Naturally, anyone considering illegal activity will set up a mechanism to make sure the truth of the matter is difficult to find.

This financial engineering is what was revealed in the Palau de la Música case, in which hundreds of thousands of euros from the Ferrovial construction company benefited CDC party finances after passing through the hands of Fèlix Millet, who we now know was a specialist when it came to handing out money while pocketing a significant commission for himself.

When the Palau case exploded, the Barcelona prosecutors did not know of the political side to the situation and when it finally emerged in court, it would do so through a single individual linked to CDC, Daniel Osàcar. However, the length of the judicial process and the difficulty of getting to the truth is enough to make the public believe that fighting corruption is a losing battle. The famous 3% case, referring to alleged illegal financing of CiU through the public company Adigsa that was brought up by Pascual Maragall in parliament in 2005, despite being taken up the very next day by the then prosecutor José María Mena, is still waiting to go to court. This slow judicial pace can also be seen in carrying out sentencing. In the case of Fèlix Millet and Jordi Montull, for example, the question usually asked is not how long their sentences will be but whether they will ever actually end up in prison at all, despite their confessions in 2009. Along with cases of corruption on a private, individual level, whether it is Josep Lluís Núñez, Francisco García Prieto, Jordi Cañas, the Carulla family, Montserrat Caballé or Narcís Serra, the impression given is that society is mired in a never-ending cycle of corruption.

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