Spanish elites feel wrath of corruption backlash

GMT 05:33 2014 Thursday ,23 October

Arab Today, arab today Spanish elites feel wrath of corruption backlash

Placard plastered with stickers depicting Spain's
Madrid - AFP

Spanish authorities are taking a tougher line against corruption by the country's long untouchable elites as a lengthy economic downturn fuels public outrage.
With a year to go until the next general election, political parties, which have long been accused of turning a blind eye, talk of stepping up the fight against corruption at a time when one in four Spaniards is out of work.
The most famous name to pay the price is Rodrigo Rato, a former head of the International Monetary Fund and one of the pillars of the ruling conservative Popular Party.
The 65-year-old is at the heart of an investigation into allegations that he and dozens of other executives at troubled lender Bankia spent a total of 15 million euros ($19 million) with secret company credit cards on personal expenses, ranging from groceries to safaris.
He paid a three-million-euro court bond on Wednesday to cover his liability in the scandal as the investigation continues.
Rato, a former economy minister, on Monday asked for his membership in the Popular Party to be temporarily suspended as pressure grew on the party to exclude him.
He had until now escaped that indignity despite having being the target of a criminal probe in court into whether he misrepresented Bankia's financial soundness as the bank was preparing its stock market listing in 2011.
The near-collapse of Bankia the following year caused thousands of customers to lose their savings and pushed Spain to seek a 41 billion euro international bailout for its financial sector.
Rato stepped down as chairman of Bankia in May 2012 but he remained as an advisor to several large Spanish companies such as telecoms firm Telefonica and Santander, the eurozone's biggest bank.
But Spain's political class has been shaken by the rise of a new anti-austerity and anti-elite party, Podemos, which vows to "protect the people from financial power and corruption".
Podemos, which means "We Can" in Spanish, stormed past older opposition groups to take fourth place in Spain's EU elections in May.
It has since come in third place in opinion polls and could oust the Popular Party from power at Madrid regional elections next year.
- 'Panic' over corruption taint -
The credit card scandal has dominated headlines in Spain since it broke earlier this month and has sparked a string of resignations by Spanish officials.
The main opposition Socialist Party has expelled all members found to be caught up in the scandal.
"With the crisis, people have become much more inquisitive and are searching for the causes of economic problems. This is putting parties under enormous pressure," said Fermin Bouza, a sociologist at Madrid's Complutense University.
"There is enormous panic at the thought of being found guilty of any sort of corruption."
Corruption scandals have hit both the left and right, businesses and unions, football clubs and even the king's sister.
In Spain's poor northwestern region of Galicia one mayor in nine has been charged with corruption, according to a tally by regional daily newspaper La Voz de Galicia.
The former president of the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, the champion of Catalan nationalism, and his family are the target of police and tax office investigations.
- Sense of impunity -
While hundreds of officials are charged with corruption, only a handful are found guilty and carry out their sentence in jail.
"People are outraged because the political parties have not reacted quickly and the justice system works very slowly," said Jose Juan Toharia, the president of polling firm Metroscopia.
He blames the slowness of the justice system on the fact that Spain has proportionally fewer judges than other major European nations.
The country has two times fewer judges per 1,000 people than France, and four times fewer judges than Germany, Toharia said.
"This creates an impression of impunity which despairs people," he said.
The government has campaigned against corruption because it knows that it can not win re-election solely on the argument that the economy is recovering, since the improvement is slow and it will take a while to improve people's lives, said Manuel Villoria, a corruption expert.
He has proposed a reform of Spain's legal code that would include a law on political party financing and tighter rules for top officials to avoid conflicts of interest.
"I doubt that many of the measures that have been announced will be enacted," added Villoria, a founding member of global anti-corruption campaigner group Transparency International and a political science professor at King Juan Carlos University.
"I demand that we give control bodies like prosecutors more independence," said Villoria.


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