Royal Drama and Gürtel Case Stir Debate Over Corruption In Spain

We used to see their pictures in coated paper magazines sailing, basking in Majorca island sun. They were always discreet and contained, surrounded by a tacit protection -and media self-censorship. The Royal family was once the symbol of Spain’s stability, and the most daring gossip about them had to be with love affairs or family disagreements. Until everything changed in 2012.

King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter Cristina, who Spaniards thought as untouchable for years, will be questioned over accusations of tax fraud and money-laundering on Saturday, as well as about her role in her husband Iñaki Urgandarin’s alleged embezzlement of $8 million of public funds through the charity he chaired.

Even though the couple has denied any wrongdoing, the judge states in a summary of more than 200 pages that “the fiscal crimes that Urdangarin is accused of could hardly have been committed without at least the knowledge and acquiescence of his wife.”

The scandal has put the troubles of the House of Borbon, no longer invulnerable, on the table. And adds another headache to the king’s, whose woes started when the Urdangarin case opened three years ago and worsened after he had an accident during an elephant hunting trip to Africa in 2012, while Spaniards suffered from severe austerity measures.

But the term corruption is not only linked to the Royal family these days: it has now been five years of the Gürtel case, when its headmasters Francisco Correa and Pablo Crespo, were arrested. A complex, huge network that has seen several main political figures fall, such as Valencia regional premier Francisco Camps and former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, among others.

Gürtel is not just a “few bad apples” matter, as some PP members claimed, but has deeply shaken the ruling party: almost 200 people are awaiting trial in Madrid and Valencia’s High Courts. Correa is alleged to have gathered a personal fortune of €25 million in undeclared bank accounts over the 13 years he ran the illegal network, in which businessmen buttered PP politicians with exorbitant, pricey gifts in hope of winning contracts.

Both scandals have been making headlines for months and years, respectively. For Spanish media it was the first time some taboos were being shattered. Having the courage to touch Spanish Royal family or political power’s malpractices has a price. At least, this is what the country’s political analysts have inferred from the removal of two Spain’s media heavyweights’ heads from their jobs: Pedro J. Ramírez and José Antich, directors of newspapers El Mundo and La Vanguardia.

Since Catalonia’s government started its independence project’s campaign, the Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia firmly supported it. Some non-confirmed rumours say that King Juan Carlos warned paper’s owner Javier Godó, who holds a nobility title of Count of Godó, over the editorial line and asked him to remove Mr Antich from the newspaper first rank. Certainly, La Vanguardia’s head hasn’t commented on the matter, he just said a discreet goodbye to the newspaper’s readers through an article in which he reviewed some of main events covered during his 14 years as director.

The case of El Mundo’s chief Pedro J. Ramírez was very different, however. Always controversial and inclined to be in the eye if the storm, Mr Ramírez made his point with a speech before the paper’s staff, as well as through social media, in an op-ed published by El Mundo itself, and even in The New York Times- this last considered by its author as a manipulation, by the way-. Anyway, Mr Ramírez has maintained the same thesis in all the fronts: pressures from Spain’s government and Royal House after publishing information on corruption on both sides are behind his change of position.

After unemployment, corruption is Spaniard’s main worry, according to an official survey released in January. It has also been pointed out as a “breathtaking” problem by the European authorities, whose first report on this problem points to Spain, Greece and Italy as main offenders in a practice that costs the EU no less than 120 billion euros each year, the equivalent of the Union’s annual budget.

About the Author

Ana Fuentes
Columnist for El País and a contributor to SER (Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión), was the first editor-in-chief of The Corner. Currently based in Madrid, she has been a correspondent in New York, Beijing and Paris for several international media outlets such as Prisa Radio, Radio Netherlands or CNN en español. Ana holds a degree in Journalism from the Complutense University in Madrid and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Master's in Journalism from Spanish newspaper El País.

1 Comment on "Royal Drama and Gürtel Case Stir Debate Over Corruption In Spain"

  1. I’m disappointing with the comment about the possibility that the King Juan Carlos has wanted to remove José Antich for his status of pro-independence man. José Antich is not a pro-independence man. The new head, Marius Carol neither is a pro-independence man, but he is more a catalan’s nationalist than José Antich. I mean, if the King of Spain wants to “calm” the editorial line of La Vanguardia, is not the best possible change…

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