Two men against the state: The corruption scandal that may bring down the Spanish establishment

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  By David Miró, translated from Catalan by the author

The journalist John Carlin preferred the title The Human Element for his magnificent book on South Africa’s reconciliation process with Nelson Mandela at the helm. The book’s thesis is that no process of such a magnitude can move forward without exploring the most sensitive facets of the human condition, without taking a close look at what differentiates our species from the rest of the animal kingdom.

The human element was also what might have derailed the process. All human organisations are made up of individuals, and that fact introduces an uncontrollable, random element. Can one person be the determining factor which allows an entire country – immersed in apartheid violence – to reconciliate? Yes. Can one person (or two) hold an entire system against the ropes? Yes again. Official Spain, which in the official version – the one that’s in the stories of the Transition and the economic miracle, the one that belongs to the triumphalist followers of King Juan Carlos – is being terrorized by the revelations of two characters that four years ago were entirely unknown: Luis Bárcenas (Huelva, 1957) and Diego Torres (Maó, 1965).

Both have information in their power that can destroy the two fundamental pillars of the Spanish institutional framework: the People’s Party (PP) and thus the government, and the monarchy. How has this happened? How could they have gathered such delicate and yet potentially explosive information? Why have they decided to save themselves while putting in danger the same system from which they benefited during so many years, amassing authentic fortunes? In the end, the only possible explanation is the psychological factor, the weak link in any human system.

Two people who have enjoyed a high standard of living, the recognition of their peers, the conviction that nothing could resist their influence or their sagacity at making money, and the feeling of impunity afforded by the shield of the principal Spanish political party, on the one hand, and the monarchy, on the other.

That’s the only way to explain, for example, how Bárcenas got used to doing things like signing a 300,000€ cheque to pay upfront for a chalet in Baqueira Beret, or depositing 330,000 euros in 500€ bills in the bank, which resulted in his first police investigation. Nothing could stop him.

Social recognition

Torres was after a different prize. Money was important, but more addictive still was the social recognition he could gain from making the rounds as Iñaki Urdangarin (son in law of King Juan Carlos) and Princess Cristina’s close friend, hanging out at their jet-set parties. Among the nouveau-riche, politically ambitious, but scruples-deficient (Francisco Camps, Jaume Matas…), the mere appearance at the side of the ex-handball player increased Torres’ cachet and gave him standing.

Judge José Castro, yet another example of how the human element can affect the lives of the rest of us, explains it without mincing words in the ruling in which he justifies the required bond of 8.2 million euros for the King’s son-in-law and for Torres. They were good friends, but the Esade professor decided at some point that his protection pact had been betrayed. And that’s what unleashed the monarchic Armageddon made up of more than 200 emails that Torres systematically filed away over the years, as a kind of life insurance policy.

The mentality behind keeping all those emails, just like the careful annotations of the PP’s alleged ‘alternate accounting’ in Bárcenas case, gives us a window into their very being. “They’re not going to catch me, and if they do, I’ll drag them down with me.” Bárcenas and Torres have the same psychological profile: vindictive personalities with inflated egos, who in the end convince themselves that they are the victims and not the delinquents, and who consider it quite normal, even obligatory, to break the law in order to do business, and who delight in inventing names for the tangle of shell companies that they use to hide the money. Bárcenas worked through a Panamanian foundation that he baptized with the Latin formula Sinequanon, while Torres preferred the more glamorous De Goes for Stakeholder for his masterpiece of financial engineering.

Neither forget nor forgive

Both are, therefore, mistrustful and spiteful. They neither forget nor forgive. Torres can’t forgive his friend Iñaki for betraying him in the testimony to the judge in which he accused Torres of having sole responsibility for the financial decisions made at Nóos. Torres also doesn’t forgive him for not taking sole responsibility for the bail. And it gets under his skin that Princess Christina has not been indicted—or even called to testify—while his own wife, Ana María Tejeiro, not only has been indicted, but could face a possible prison sentence. “I’m not going to eat this crap,” he’s said to have said after Urdangarin’s testimony. And from that moment on, he has parceled out information little by little. First he fingered the king’s intimate friend (a euphemism for avoiding the word lover), the German Princess Corinna, and later the Spanish Princesses’ secretary, Carlos García Revenga, who was indicted and who gave testimony on the 23rd with Urdangarin.

Bárcenas didn’t sadistically dole out little doses but, like Torres, called it quits with the PP when they refused to grant him immunity. He found legal and media advice outside of the party. The result is a strategy which has pitted the two principal newspapers of the country, El País and El Mundo, against each other in a tour de force that elegantly silences any possible Rubalcaba (the Spanish equivalent of Whitehall) related conspiracy theories.

How will it all end? It’s hard to say, but it’s clear that nothing will go back to the way it was before these two came on the scene. Rajoy is a politician with a quickly approaching expiration date and King Juan Carlos has no alternative other than to abdicate in an attempt to avoid complete disgrace. Both are suspected of irregular conduct that is incompatible with the distinction of their positions. But above all they have committed a grave error: underestimating the destructive capacity of the human element. Which, in itself, is another very human characteristic.

David Miró is deputy director of the Catalan newspaper Ara.  This article was first published in Catalan in Ara (paywall), and appears here in English translation with kind permission.