María Jesús Cañizares, 30 January 2022
Joaquim Bosch, judge /
The judge analyses in a book the past and present of political fraud in Spain and the phenomenon of revolving doors, from which “almost half of our high-ranking officials” have benefited
“How is it possible that so many millions of euros have been fraudulently activated in Catalonia without any internal alarm bells ringing? Joaquim Bosch gives an answer to this question in the book La patria en la cartera (Ariel), where he reviews the history of corruption in our country. An examining magistrate for 17 years, the magistrate considers it “unethical” for the procés to try to divert attention from these practices with a victimhood discourse. The entire interview with Crónica Global can be seen at this link].
–Question: Is corruption innate to people or to organisations?
–Answer: There is no specific cultural, territorial, or national gene that predisposes people to corruption. And experts who have analysed it at the international level show that it is directly related to the organisation of institutions. For this reason, countries that in the past had serious corruption issues have improved substantially as they have incorporated control and oversight bodies for institutions and power. Countries such as Denmark, which had serious corruption problems in the 19th century, are now at the forefront in controlling such practices.
–In the book you reject a “biological fatalism”, but if this problem has not yet been tackled, does this mean that Spanish society is tolerant?
–We are tolerant to the extent that our rulers set a bad example. Exemplarity works from the top down, not from the bottom up. This view of resignation in the face of corruption took shape especially during Franco’s dictatorship. There has always been corruption in our country, as in other countries, but decisions are conditioned by the conditions of a dictatorial regime, where there are no free elections, no freedom of information and expression, no separation of powers. Corruption can therefore run rampant. There is a very interesting study by the then European Economic Community at the end of the 1980s which indicated that Spain was the only European country where, when it came to assessing the virtues of politicians, honesty was not put first. But an example that society has made progress in critical conception is that, in recent years, in the CIS surveys, corruption has repeatedly appeared as one of the three main problems in our country.
–However, when elections come round, and this perception is held in Catalonia, corruption does not take its toll on politicians.
–My impression is that Catalonia, precisely, presents very important singularities. Historically, since the Transition, corruption has not taken its toll, although, for example, the government of Felipe González ended up very worn out and explained the change of political cycle. The case of Catalonia is very singular, but there are very clear rulings on very clear cases of corruption. The Palau case ruling proved that the party [CDC] criminally received six million euros in bribes in the awarding of public works, Jordi Pujol’s son was convicted of fraudulent ITV awards, and in other business sectors there are many other cases that prove evidence of similar conduct. There is a major corruption problem in Catalonia. The Institute of Good Governance of the University of Gothenburg, the most important institute for analysing institutional integrity, also studies by region and tells us that in Spain, Catalonia is the territory with the most problems of institutional integrity, followed by the Canary Islands, Andalusia and Madrid. Another thing is the bills that this may provoke. The changes in CDC’s name demonstrate fears that corruption could have electoral costs.
–Does the University of Gothenburg report place Catalonia at the forefront of corruption or does it also cover other forms of management?
–It refers to institutional quality and integrity. We should not be surprised by this. There have been many investigations into corruption in Catalonia, even at levels where it has been proven that ideology is outweighed by interests in indecent practices. Let us remember the Pretoria case, which united socialist leaders at the municipal level with historic leaders of the CDC at the regional level, to distribute bribes and commissions in all kinds of public contracts. There are many more cases currently under investigation. The findings of the Gothenburg Institute are not merely hypothetical. There are objective data, with sentences and proven facts that tell us that there is a serious problem of corruption in Catalonia.
–But denouncing corruption in Catalonia means, for some, attacking Catalan institutions, something that also appears in your book.
–Diverting attention from the central problem, which is corruption, is a common strategy. And one way of doing this is to attack the judges who investigate. In Catalonia this form of response was created, which I find unethical, because the situation of the procés is very complex and should generate legitimate debates, but they cannot be muddied with manipulations about the reality of corruption. It is a problem that must be resolved and cannot be mixed with others that require their own debate. This victimising discourse, with smokescreens to divert attention from the problem of corruption in Catalonia, has important precedents in the early years of democracy that worked and, for this reason, continue to be practised. In the Banca Catalana case, where there were quite clear indications of crime and we know that there was political pressure from the central government on the prosecutors who investigated, instead of being discussed as a case of corruption, a framework of debate was built around the fictitious attack on Catalonia. Nothing unites as much as the common enemy. Looking for scapegoats, encouraging victimhood, has worked in Catalonia, and that is why it is being repeated.
–What measures do you propose to reduce corruption?
–The most important are preventive measures, although they are not the most popular. The most applauded are always those that involve toughening up the Penal Code or a hard hand, but in this case the institutions have already arrived too late, because the corruption has already taken place, the money has already flowed through tax havens, front men or front companies, and society has already failed when it tries to punish it. Without downplaying the importance of this instrument of condemnation. In the case of Catalonia, how is it possible that so many millions of euros have been fraudulently activated without any internal alarm bells ringing? This is a question common to the rest of the country. Internal controls must be strengthened, procurement legislation must be better regulated so that it is not so easy to award contracts to friends and corrupt plots, protection must be guaranteed for those who report corruption, and ethical infrastructures must be created, as has been done in countries that fight corruption better, because they have established operating routines that are difficult to break out of. And it is very important to democratise parties internally, to avoid the opacity of their economic management, and an electoral system with unblocked lists, as is the case in most European countries. Strengthen the separation of powers and provide more resources to the judiciary and other bodies that control political power.
–How can we put an end to revolving doors?
–We have a problem that goes back to the Restoration, to the 19th century. We had ministers who, at the same time, were members of the board of directors of companies. The big state concessions for railways or mines were made by these ministers to the companies they were part of. During Franco’s dictatorship, this went to extremes. It was common for ministers to go from politics to business and back, and democracy did not break with this practice. About 40% of the political officials of democracy have used the revolving door.
–That’s a lot!
–It is a very high number. Almost half of our most important politicians have joined boards of directors without any previous business or professional background to justify it. If a big company does not pay for professional experience or ability, it is clear that what it is paying for, and at exorbitant salaries, is relationships. And this generates two major problems. If a president of the government, which there have also been, or these officials have made some merit in favour of these companies in order to have the favour, it is a more than reasonable doubt to have. And secondly, if a minister, when he or she leaves a government, the following week, can obtain benefits for the company that pays him or her, this is contrary to the general interest. Normally, when such contacts and relationships are made, it is usually to get preferential treatment. This is a problem that should be solved with much stricter incompatibility mechanisms that make it difficult for a minister to leave a government and immediately be in a large company with the capacity to influence. The law is very insufficient, it only talks about a period of two years, which is very short, to go to a company in the same sector as the one in which one has been a minister. It does not have to be in the same sector. A minister of the interior, for example, can have enormous influence over the government he or she leaves to join a company in any sector. They should be extended to at least five years and unrelated to the field in which the office was held.
–In the book he alludes to the fact that less social and political activism limits citizen oversight of such malpractices.
–Indeed, less citizen oversight makes it easier for corrupt schemes to circulate. A more informed, active, and demanding citizenry, as in other countries such as Germany or Scandinavia, leads to less corruption. And a more participatory democracy is also important. All political activity has been monopolised by the parties and there are few opportunities for participation, such as legislative initiatives, which are very complicated in Spain. Or popular consultations, reinforcement of civic entities. It is a contradiction, but we have the most powerful parties in the EU, but with a very low membership and almost no internal democratic life. They are giants, in terms of decision-making capacity, but internally they have weaknesses.
–Corruption has become more sophisticated over time. Is it an impossible task for judges to adapt to it?
–It is very complex, and this is one of the problems I mentioned earlier, the lack of resources. The corrupt plots have great experts in financial engineering. The first thing they do is to hide the money trail. The crimes associated with corruption are not visible, like murder or injuries that leave marks. Often you don’t even know they existed. They are invisible. Corrupt plots have more means to evade justice than judges have. We need the anti-corruption prosecutors to have more instruments, we need the specialised security forces to have more material and human resources, and we need more expert witnesses.
–Are judges under pressure? Some people may think that they turn a blind eye.
–I have been an examining magistrate for 17 years, I have been investigating corruption cases from day one and no politician has ever called me to tell me what to do, much less to put pressure on me. In these areas, the pressures are much more subtle. They come from the way the institutional system is set up, with a judicial leadership that is the General Council of the Judiciary, which decides on rewards and punishments. Especially in the professional sphere, with promotions in high courts. With a body that is mainly shaped by the political parties, it is not necessary to make a great effort to connect the dots to know that a judge who investigates the corruption of a party, who has influence over that leadership, may have promotion problems. All the judges who have investigated major corruption cases in our country have had problems. In the Filesa case, the Supreme Court judge, Marino Barbero, because he was a person with parliamentary immunity, suffered very harsh attacks and pressures, which are usually public, and he ended up resigning his post at the Supreme Court. In the Naseiro case, it is well known in the profession that the examining magistrate Luís Manglano had all doors closed to him for possible promotions. In the ERE case, we know what happened to Judge Mercedes Alaya, who suffered many attacks and asked the CGPJ for protection. In the Nóos case, Judge José Castro also denounced pressure. And the most recent, in the Gurtel plot, the magistrate José Ricardo de Prada was called in the pro-ETA Parliament and all kinds of insulting qualifications.