Sunday, September 24

When the dinosaurs of corruption ruled Spain

Former banker Mario Conde upon his release from Soto del Real prison in June 2016. / File, Archive

Roldán, reserved funds, AVE commissions, KIO… a long list that revives with Viajes Ceres, a ghost of Filesa and Expo-92, which returns to court

Jose Antonio Bravo

In the 1990s, the great cases of corruption that targeted the socialist governments led by Felipe González shone, whether by action or omission. Rare was the week in which one of these legal cases did not occupy front pages in the press, headlines on radio news or the first minutes of the news. Modest investigating judges such as Ana Ferrer, María Tardón, María Teresa Chacón, Santiago Pedraz were beginning to be known by name and surname… today in high judicial bodies, including the National High Court and the Supreme Court.

When there was no talk of the “incessant criminal activity to enrich themselves illicitly” (courts ‘dixit’) of the first fugitive and later convicted Luis Roldán, former director general of the Civil Guard – who died in March and who according to journalistic information could have saved for himself assets worth 14 million euros–, the news was “the corruption of the authorities and public officials” who embezzled part of the reserved funds of the Ministry of the Interior (775 million pesetas at the time, 4.6 million euros today day) without it being possible to conclude with “certainty” that their successive owners, José Barrionuevo and José Luis Corcuera, knew of it, despite the fact that the main convict was his right-hand man, Rafael Vera.

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The financier Javier de la Rosa was also in the news, who used money from the Kuwaiti sovereign fund KIO to pay bribes that even today there are still more suspicions than certainties about whether they reached the highest levels of the patriotic power. The scam of the housing developer PSV –linked to the UGT union–, the machinations of the former trustee of the Stock Exchange Manuel de la Concha in the Ibercorp financial ‘chiringuito’ –which made Mariano Rubio resign as governor of the Bank of Spain–, the balls estate agents of the ‘Albertos’ –Cortina and Alcocer had to compensate their cheated partners in Urbanor with almost 25 million euros– or the adventures of the professional commission agent Antonio Navalón –the merger of Iberdrola or the diversion of funds to the Swiss instrumental Argentia Trust are two of its notches – they occupied thousands of letters.

Even the powerful Emilio Botín was indicted for the transfers of credit from Banco Santander, an opaque product that did not go to trial due to the delegitimization of popular accusations. And as if that were not enough, a bold banker like Mario Conde fell into the prison pit victim of his own ambition in every way (the Banesto emporium would pay for it) and a controversial businessman turned politician like Jesús Gil y Gil, with the forms of a populist chief , I leave the municipal coffers of Marbella with cobwebs. Even the PP had its headaches with the ‘Zamora case’, where a war of power at the local level sowed doubts about alleged corruption with works.

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Of corridors and leaks

Those were times of ‘making corridors’ in the courts, especially those in Madrid’s Plaza de Castilla where many investigations were carried out. The National Court on Génova Street was the other nerve center. The press offices, today institutionalized in the judicial bodies, were ‘rara avis’; almost everything was done at the expense of more or less interested leaks, including prosecutors and judges – some even scheduled the day to ‘anticipate’ their resolutions and be news.

“The land for which it is worked,” said a chief prosecutor – politics would be his downfall – in a paternalistic tone to some journalist to justify his selective leaks. And there was a lot of paper – today expensive and reviled – thousands of pages that thanks to the lawyers the ‘pens’ managed to get hold of files that sometimes seemed to be those of the courts themselves. Neither PDF nor e-mails –the internet was babbling–, at the most fax, which on top of that got too clogged.

The first of those dirty rags condemned and that put the PSOE in the pillory was the ‘Filesa case’, in which its irregular financing was accredited through various award schemes and commissions that provided it with more than 1,200 million pesetas at the time . That was the most notorious part, with a senator (Josep María Sala) and a deputy (Carlos Navarro) convicted, but the corrupt machinery was greater. Among its tentacles were the payments from companies for taking over the works of the first Spanish AVE (Madrid-Seville), which ended in a minor sentence for the former coordinator of socialist finances Aída Álvarez, or the awarding of trips for the elderly in the Imserso .

This last plot now revives with Viajes Ceres –the Supreme Court has ordered the case to be reopened–, an apparent instrument to divert money to the PSOE –with the companies Filesa, Time Export and Aparthotel Aguamar and in some cases after passing through tax havens– thanks to the awards it received from 1988 to 1990 for more than 7,000 million pesetas (42 million euros). Luis Oliveró, Juan Bautista Calatayud, Carlos Rodríguez Bono and Javier López Blanco, among others, could unravel some connections that reached the contracts of the Universal Exhibition of Seville in 1992 through the instrumental Telemundi –businessman Alberto Flores pulled this blanket and some other – and that the then judge Baltasar Garzón tried to investigate without success.

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