The King's hunting trip

In 2012 Spain was suffering under the yoke of austerity imposed by the government. World-wide recession caused unemployment to rise steeply. It was during these difficult times that King Juan Carlos organised a hunting trip to Botswana with Rann Safaris. The safaris cost $8,700 a week, and an extra $15,000 for a kill.  The king had always been a keen hunter, but to avoid bad publicity he kept his hunting trips a secret.

On this particular trip, things went badly wrong. In an accident reminiscent of the shooting of the king's younger brother 56 years before, his grandson, 13-year-old Froilán Marichalar, shot himself in the foot with a shotgun and had to be hospitalised.

Undaunted, the king continued with his safari and shot an elephant. He was photographed in front of the dead beast with the guide, who put the photograph on the Rann Safari website along with photographs taken on the king’s previous hunting trip when he shot two African Buffaloes.

King Juan Carlos on his hunting trip. Image: Splash News

This might have gone unnoticed had the king not injured himself in a fall and was taken to hospital. The press got a hold of the story, and animal-rights activists caused an uproar backed by indignant taxpayers who wanted to know how much the trip had cost. A secondary issue, was that it was illegal for a 13 year-old to use a firearm.

The beginning of the royal scandals

 Worse publicity followed when the press discovered that Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein had accompanied the king on the hunting trip. The Princess had been romantically linked to the king over a period of 10 years, and the press was later discovered that the king’s lawyers had bought several expensive properties in Monaco and elsewhere using the name of the princess. Monaco was a tax-heaven where the king did not have to declare his assets, and when the king broke off the affair in 2015, the princess was asked to transfer the ownership to the king’s cousin. Corinna refused because the transfer would be money laundering, and she could face a prison sentence. Things became very murky after a former police officer, who was already under suspicion of money laundering, told the press that he was being pressured by Spanish intelligence to steal incriminating documents from the flat of the princess.

 

Princess Corinna and the King. Image: Die Welt. 

 

The abdication of King Juan Carlos I

 Whilst this problem was quietly festering, an even bigger scandal was forming involving the royal family, which would eventually lead to the Infanta Christina, the king’s daughter, being brought into court as a witness against her husband Iñaki Urdangarín.

On June 19th 2014, to avoid further scandal tainting the royal family, the king abdicated in favour of his son Felipe, who became King Felipe VI.

 

 

Ex-King Juan Carlos and his son King Felipe VI . Image: Christina Cifuentes.

The Nóos Trial

Rumours of corruption began in February 2006 when Antoni Dieguez, a socialist politician in the Balearic Parliament, complained that the Nóos Institute had received €1.2million from the government for a three day forum on tourism and sport. The Nóos Institute was supposed to be a non-profit making organisation which promoted sporting events and regularly received donations and grants from the government. Urdangarín was one of the directors of the Institute.

The rumours became allegations and a matter for judicial intervention when investigations into the Institute’s business deals brought to light irregularities over the contracts awarded to build the Palma Arena sports complex in Majorca. The initial estimate for the contract was 43 million, but the final price on completion was €110 million. Alarm bells started ringing when it was found that €50 million of the money paid by the government for the complex had disappeared.

 

Iñaki Urdangarín and his wife the king's daughter, La Infanta Christina. Image: Clarion.

 

The judge of the Palma Arena case, José Castro, decided to open a second investigation into the Nóos Institute. As the lawyers followed the money trail, it became clear that money had passed between the Balearic government and some of the members of the Nóos Institute. Investigators also found that large amounts of money had passed through the bank accounts of the king’s daughter.

Cristina was called to testify in court, and the judges repeatedly asked her about the money. Unknown to the court officials, one of the reporters had smuggled in a camera, and her denials and evasions were recorded. By the following morning, the whole of Spain had heard her repeatedly telling the incredulous judges that she could not remember the millions that had passed through her account. She denied involvement in any irregularities and said that her husband dealt with all the money for her. The money had been laundered through a number of tax havens and was largely untraceable, but there was evidence enough to show that Urdangarín was directly involved with the disappearance of 6,000,000 of public money.

Christina was ordered to pay around €265,000 in fines, but her husband was given a six-year and three-month jail sentence along with Diego Torres, his business partner, who was given an eight and a half year sentence. Sixteen other people were given varying jail sentences as a result of the trial. Urdangarín and his wife were stripped of their royal titles of Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, and the princess now lives in Switzerland.    

The ERE scandal.

In 2009 Judge Mercedes Alaya, a Sevillia born judge, began investigating allegations of extortion and corruption in what became known as the “the Mercasevilla case.” The ailing trading company in Sevilla wanted to build a new catering school, and had seemingly paid bribes to obtain planning permission. The company normally traded in fish, meat and vegetables and it owned large, old warehouses, but had begun downsizing its staffing because of the recession. What she discovered, was that some of the people who had been given redundancy pay-outs had never worked for Mercasevilla.  

Payments for redundancy came from an EU grant, and a fund called ERE (Expedientes de Regulacion de Empleo) was set up by the Junta de Andalucia so that officials of the socialist government could allocate funds at shop-floor levels. Brussels was trying to make the lot of the ordinary worker easier with redundancy payments when older industries declined and closed. The fund was controlled by the elected socialist party the PSOE, but administered on a local level by labour chief Javier Guerrero. Guerrero had been in charge of ERE fund pay-outs a for ten year period from 1999 to 2008, and Alaya discovered that he had been awarding generous retirement packages to his family, including his mother–in-law. Guerrero admitted that he was guilty, and was expelled from the socialist party. The PSOE hoped that this would be the end, but Alaya then turned on the current labour leader, Juan Márquez, and charged him, too, with embezzlement. He was forced to drop his plans to run for election as Mayor of Lucena del Puerto in Huelva. But Alaya had not finished, and the judge informed the labour leader who was in office before Guerrero that he was being charged for similar offences committed during his time in service.

The judge’s investigations uncovered more than 50 cases of early retirement pay-outs to people who never worked for the companies they supposedly retired from. Even more curious was the fact that the companies involved had no idea that the pay-outs had been made. 

Most of the payments had been made during Guerrero’s term, but the €650,000 fund had been set up by Antonio Fernández, who served from 2004 to 2010. Two of the beneficiaries of fake retirement pay-outs had been the family of Juan Lanzas, the UGT public sector union leader and friend of Fernández, and Antonio Garrido Santoyo, socialist party leader in Jáen whose family received €78,000 from the fund. As the web of corruption was uncovered, Judge Alaya opened more and more separate cases.

Judge Mercedes Alaya. Image: diariosur.es

 

The most revealing testimony in a trial by dominated by confusion and cover-up was given by the chauffeur for Andalucia’s former employment minister Francisco Javier Guerrero. During nearly ten years that Juan Francisco Trujillo drove for Guerrero, he was paid €1.3million, which he spent on property in Sevilla and luxury goods for friends and family. His boss and “friend” typically spent around €25,000 a month on cocaine and brothels. He would drive Guerrero and other party officials to top restaurants in Seville and then on to various “Puti” clubs, or brothels around the city. All of the money they used was illegally taken from the ERE fund that the EU topped up each year. Trujillo, now known as “the cocaine chauffeur” has been charged with 22 crimes including forgery, embezzlement, bribery and ‘influence peddling’. His boss is accused of a similar number of crimes.

The links eventually led through members of the Andalucian parliament. In 2014, Alaya charged all the members of the Governing Council of the Agency for Innovation and Development in Andalucia (IDEA) who were in power between 2003 and 2009. Among those was the president of Unicaja, Braulio Medel, and with him the ex-chief of judicial services in the Junta de Andalucia, Francisco del Río. These arrests brought the number of people charged with corruption to 181.

The EU fund became known as “the reptile fund” by its users because large amounts of it were used as bribes to pay union officials who resisted the criminals, or rival politicians who might blow the whistle on what was going on. The outsiders to their conspiracy of crime were known as “reptiles.”  Prosecutors believe that something like €200 million was illegally taken from the fund since it was first set up.

 José Antonio Griñán and  Manuel Chaves. Image: El Pais.

 

One of the pivotal figures in the scam has turned out to be Juan Lanzas, the head of the UGT union. He is thought to have made €13 million through fixing payments, allowing him to buy 12 houses and live a lifestyle far removed from the workers he is paid to represent. He was charged with five counts of embezzling public funds, breach of trust, forgery, conspiracy and bribery, but Lanzas was released from jail after his family miraculously produced €200,000 in cash to pay for his bail.

The trials and investigations begun by Judge Alaya continued for six years, but the trail had dried up, and the cover-ups had erased much of the evidence needed to bring charges. Up to this point, prosecutors had only succeeded in putting two people in prison, and it looked unlikely that anybody else would be sent to jail. The case documents had already run to over 40,000 pages and arrests were still being made in Seville, Jerez,
Jaén, Granada, Madrid and Barcelona.


By this time, Judge Alaya had a fan club on Facebook which had grown to 40,000 people. She was known to the press as, “The Iron Lady of Spanish Justice." But even the stunningly attractive judge had doubts about being able to put an end to this evil. She had reached the top with her investigaations and openly confessed to the press that she had been stopped. "Prosecutors do not move a finger unless they recieve orders from Madrid."

Nevertheless, the prosecutions continued.  The case became so large and unwieldy that it was broken up into 146 seperate probes. Prosecutors estimated that over a decade, members of the Andalucian administration diverted 168 million euros, ($762 millon) into their own and their families' bank accounts. The money was discreetly passed on to people buisinesses, often with close links to the socialist party, many of whom were not effected by layoffs. 

When the trial finally came to court in December 2017 it charged 19 former top ruling socialists in Andalucia with their role in one of the biggest corruption cases in Spain's modern history. The charges were that they, "Distributed without due dilligence, hundreds of millions of euros meant to help the unemployed and companies in difficulties in Andalucia."  The court said that there was an "absolute lack of control." in the management of the funds.

After a year,  the case finally came to a conclusion on 19 November 2019, and two former leaders of  Andalucia's regional government faced charges. José Antonio Griñán and  Manuel Chaves were sentenced for their part in the scandal. Both men had served under former socialist Prime-Minister Felipe Gonzales. The court found Griñán, who had served as the PSOE's regional premier in Andalucia between 2009 and 2013, guilty of embezzelment and misappropriation of  public funds, and sentenced him to jail for six years. He was also declared ineligable for public office for 15 years. Chaves was found guilty of maladministration, and the court declared him ineligable for public office for nine years.

 

But for the iron determination of Judge Mercedes Alaya, all of these high ranking officials would have walked free after organising the biggest corruption scam that Spain has ever seen.

 

Taken from many sources including The Olive Press, El Pais, Diario de Cádiz and The Local.

Catalonia

 Catalonia was severely affected by the Napoleonic wars, but recovered dramatically during the industrial revolution along with the rest of Europe, and by 1914 the four Catalan provinces had united and formed the Generalitat of Catalonia, an autonomous government. During the brief period before the Civil War, when Spain had a democracy, the region prospered economically and culturally. During the dictatorship, Franco repressed the growing independence of the region, and banned the official use of the Catalan language. Despite being under the thumb of the dictatorship, Catalonia prospered during the 50’s, and during the next two decades became self-sufficient economically, especially during the 60’s when it was the second fastest growing economy in the world, and dubbed by the press as the “Spanish miracle.” Workers from the still-depressed rest of Spain flocked to the region, making it one of the largest industrial metropolitan provinces in the country. In the 80’s, tourism augmented industrialisation, as Barcelona became a popular destination for cruise-ships. Catalonia forged ahead of the rest of Spain, with improved education, cultural and environmental reforms, and a business plan that has made it the most dynamic economic region in Spain.

 But the enterprise of its people has always been fueled by a desire to be independent from the rest of Spain, and this wish for full autonomy as a separate country grew during the first years of the new century. 

In 1977 Catalonia adopted the Statute of Automomy and two years later elected its first President, Jordi Pujol who remained in office until 2003. During his term of office, Pujol presided over the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games in 1992 and encouraged the formation of an autonomous Catalan police force and the broadcasting network, Televisió de Catalunya with its own channel TV3 in 1983.

The 2003 elections saw a socialist coalition under the presidency of Pasqual Maragall, who was previously mayor of Barcelona and organised the Olympic bid by the city. The new government drafted a new Statute of Autonomy in 2006 which included some controversial changes to justice, financing and the status of the Catalan language. The most radical of all changes was the creation of Catalonia as a separate nation outside Spain. It was immediately contested by the conservative People’s Party (PP) party and referred to the Constitutional Court of Spain, which declared many of the changes unconstitutional.

This had the effect of rallying the popular protest around the cause of independence, and over 550 municipalities in Catalonia held mock referendums on independence. With a 30% turnout, the voting gave a high “yes” result. The movement gathered momentum, and a million people turned out in the streets to demand independence in 2010.

Pasqual Maragall

 

On 11th September 2012, a second mass protest called for the commencement of the process to gain full independence from Spain. The President, Artur Mas, called a snap election which produced a pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament and prompted the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration in early 2013, stating that the Catalan people had the right to decide their own political future. The Catalan government announced a referendum to be held in November 2014 which was to pose two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state?” And “Do you want this state to be independent?” The Spanish government declared the referendum unconstitutional so Catalonia changed if from a binding referendum to a non-binding “consultation” and went ahead with the referendum. On 20th November 2014, 42% of the population of Catalonia returned an 81% vote of “yes-yes” and the president, Artur Mas, called for another election on the strength of the vote, which he hoped would give him the majority to call a binding vote on independence.

Although winning 47% of the seats, they fell short of a majority, but nevertheless passed a resolution declaring the initiation of the independence process in November 2015. The following year, under the new president Charles Puigdemont, the Catalan government proposed a binding referendum on independence, with the wording on the voting form reading: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” There was to be no minimum turnout and if the result was a “yes” the law would be passed creating Catalonia an independent republic. The bill was passed on the 6th September 2017

Opposition parties walked out in protest, but on the following day, the Catalan parliament passed a “transition law” to help implement the new constitution.  

Artur Mas

The bill of the 6th was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court on the 17th and Mariano Rajoy asked for backing from the Constitutional Court of Spain to stop the referendum. It was also illegal under Catalan Statutes, which required a two-thirds majority in the Catalan parliament to change the status of the province.

The Spanish immediately sent police from the rest of Spain to close polling stations, seize ballot papers and impose heavy fines on anybody manning them. Parents kept schools open over the weekend to allow voting to take place, whilst the national government closed down websites supporting the referendum. Catalan cabinet officials were arrested and voters took to the streets in protest. Only 43% of the population managed to vote, but according to the Catalan authorities the count was 90% in favour of independence.  Carles Puigdemont declared the independence of Catalonia, but left it suspended in order to allow dialogue with the national government to reach an “agreed solution.”

 The Spanish government imposed direct rule on Catalonia, dismissed the Catalan parliament and called an election to choose another on the 21 December 2017. Carles Puigdemont and five other ministers fled Spain, whilst nine other cabinet members, including Vice-president Oriol Junqueras were jailed under various charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.

 

Quim Torra became the 131st President of the Government of Catalonia on 15th May 2018, after the Spanish courts blocked three other candidates. The three pro-independence parties retained control, but with only 70 seats and 47% of the votes cast. Catalonia is still a divided land with nearly half of its people wanting independence.

 

Carles Puigdemont