31/08/2013 by Don Quijones
Spain’s government plumbed new depths of political chicanery and incompetence this week when it openly admitted that it had tampered with evidence in the Bárcenas affair, a corruption case implicating many of its senior ministers.
The evidence in question was stored on two computers used by Luís Bárcenas, the Popular Party’s former chief treasurer who is accused of taking bribes, evading taxes by hiding the proceeds in tax havens and laundering money through shell companies.
According to Bárcenas, the computers held vital information that confirmed many of the allegations he’d made against his former colleagues, of which here’s a brief taster:
- For almost 20 years Bárcenas paid under-the-table bonuses to senior figures in the Popular Party (PP), including (ahem, allegedly) the current prime-minister Mariano Rajoy.
- During that time large construction companies gave the party as much as 8 million euros in undeclared donations.
- Half a dozen party leaders received special undeclared payments for certain services.
- Most of the PP’s regional offices followed the exact same practice of hiding illegal donations.
- Most importantly, all of these illegal practices had been common knowledge to the party leadership since 1990.
As you can imagine, Rajoy’s government wasn’t all that keen on the prospect of yet more incriminating evidence seeping out into the public arena — especially when said evidence was stored on the hard disks of two laptops gathering dust in an empty office of its own party’s Madrid headquarters.
In an act that was as predictible as it was dishonourable, the government took possession of the computers. As the PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal stated at the time, “Bárcenas’ computers are being guarded at Génova [street] HQ.”
When their rightful owner, Bárcenas, tried to pick them up from his former office earlier this year, he was refused entrance. Judge Ruz, the presiding judge in the case, then made a formal request for the two computers, to check whether the contents might confirm some of the treasurer’s claims.
That was in April this year, but it wasn’t until Thursday last week that the computers were finally presented to the court. When they were, it was discovered that one of the laptops had had its hard drive completely removed, while the other’s had been reformatted.
Along with the computers was a short note from the PP, part of which stated:
Every time a piece of equipment is no longer in use by the person to whom it’s assigned, it is returned to the general system, for “reformatting” before being made available to another user. In the case of equipment that has been used by people who have managed “sensitive information“, all the stored data is destroyed, in accordance with PP protocol. (This is done by) “dismantling, scratching and destroying the hard drive’s magnetic disk.“
PP sources also claimed they were obligated by Spain’s data protection to destroy or remove any personal documents or data whenever a worker leaves his or her job – an assertion that has been fiercely rejected by many in the legal profession. According to Ofelia Tejerina, a lawyer for Spain’s Association of Internauts, the law cited by the PP expressly forbids the destruction or removal of any information that might be needed for a criminal investigation.
The company is “obligated by law to preserve the information on that computer, it can not be given to another employee,” Terejina told Europress. “One thing is to destroy information; another thing is to block it… Blocking information means that, as an employer, I cannot use the information, but it must remain stored, either for legal or administrative reasons.”
Terejina added that, in the case of dismissal, the normal thing to do is to “delete all the personal information that the worker wants removing.” However, you must also “make a back-up copy of all key business information before resetting the computer”.
This latest scandal has predictably provoked a fierce backlash from opposition parties in parliament. Since the investigation began in March and the hard drive was destroyed in April, there is a clear case to be made that Rajoy’s party has deliberately obstructed the course of justice, said Elena Valenciano, the deputy secretary-general for the Socialist Party.
In any normal country, heads would roll and new elections would be called. After all, how can the public have any remaining confidence in a government that has flaunted so many laws of the land – laws which, in many cases, it itself has passed?
But this is Spain we’re talking about, a country where justice can always wait til mañana —especially when the accused is an important, upstanding member of the political or business community.
Even in the political arena, the PP has managed to minimize the direct repercussions from scandals such as these by simply closing ranks and leveraging its comfortable majority in parliament to block any motion from opposition parties. Which is precisely what it did on Friday when facing calls for Rajoy to answer for his party’s actions.
As for Rajoy himself, he refuses to discuss any aspect of the Bárcenas case in public. For him, Bárcenas and his misdeeds have been consigned to the past; in the present and future lie far more important challenges, such as saving Spain’s economy.
“No matter how hard some might try, nothing or no one will distract us from our vital task, which is to put the crisis behind us,” he told a press conference on Saturday.
You see, in Mariano’s world — a world dominated by Quixotic delusions and Nixonian plots — the crisis is fading, the economy is on the mend and Luis Bárcenas no longer matters. “Risk premiums are much lower,” he proudly boasted to reporters, forgetting to mention that this improvement was owed exclusively to ECB Chairman Mario Draghi’s infamous “I’ll do anything to save the euro” speech.
Unsurpisingly, there was less mention of the country’s chronic unemployment problem and no mention whatsoever of the supposed 25-plus billion euro shortfall in the balance of Spain’s bank restructuring fund (the so-called “FROB”) — a deficit the government now admits will never be filled and which will have to be covered by Spain’s fast-dwindling, cash-strapped taxpayers.
All the while, the country slides deeper and deeper into a chasm of depression and delusion. In Cervante’s epic tale, Don Quijote’s deluded quest to revive chivalry results in privations, injuries and humiliations (with Sancho often getting the worst of it). In modern-day Spain, Rajoy & Co’s deluded quest to ride out the Bárcenas scandal — by playing down its importance and now destroying incriminating evidence in the case — has already mortally humiliated the Popular Party.
As for privations and injuries, one need only look at the current state of the Spanish nation.