Another Day, Another Political Corruption Scandal In Spain’s ‘Mafia State’

By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. Originally published at Testosterone Pit

Political corruption has become synonymous with political leadership in Spain. After 16 long months of the Bárcenas affair, it is common knowledge that senior members of the current governing party operated a highly lucrative political slush fund for well over 20 years.

Everyone also knows that no matter what shady backroom shenanigans their senior political representatives get up to, they will pay no price. All crime, no punishment — that’s the new modus operandi at the top of Spain’s political establishment. As if to drill this point home, the country was treated this week to a spectacle of political hubris and impunity so farcical and obscene that it leaves no doubt in one’s mind: Spain is now run by a mafia state!

It all began with a simple traffic infraction. On Thursday afternoon, at roughly 4:30 p.m. Spanish time, a unit of Madrid’s traffic police sighted a Toyota Verso illegally parked in a bus lane on Gran Via, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. They pulled up alongside the vehicle and began taking down its details.

Little did they know that said vehicle belonged to Spain’s “Iron Lady”, Esperanza Aguirre, the former president of the Madrid Community and one of Spain’s most connected and powerful political figures. Aguirre had, in her own words, just “popped out” of her car to get some cash out of a nearby ATM.

When she returned to find her car surrounded by traffic wardens, the political big shot did what most big shots do in such situations: she pushed her weight around. According to a British tourist who witnessed the scene, “she got increasingly agitated.” After just a few minutes of questioning by the officers, Aguirre lost her patience and cool, put her car into gear, and drove off, in the process knocking over one of the officer’s motorbikes. As she sped along Madrid’s Gran Via, a police car gave chase, but when the officers inside signaled for her to pull over, she refused.

After driving all the way home, Aguirre parked her dented Toyota in the garage. When the police arrived, they were met by agents of the Civil Guard who serve as her official bodyguards – all paid for with public money, of course, despite the fact that Aguirre no longer occupies a public role.

According to allegations in El País, the agents cautioned the police officers against pressing charges against their boss. Thankfully, the officers declined, choosing instead to report Aguirre for direct disobedience of authority.

A “Noble” Politician

Unfortunately for the police officers, they could not have picked a more powerful foe. As the Countess of Bornos, Grandee of Spain, Esperanza Aguirre is a distinguished member of the Spanish nobility. She is also the current president of the Madrid branch of the Popular Party (PP) and aspires to run as the city’s new mayor in the next round of local elections.

Adored by the right and detested by the left, Aguirre cuts a sharply polarising figure. She is also Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy’s fiercest critic and rival. Indeed, before yesterday’s brief moment of madness, Aguirre was considered one of the hot favourites to succeed, if not topple, Rajoy in the coming years.

It’s not just in Spain where Aguirre wields influence. In February 2004, she was appointed Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, making her the first Spanish woman to have received the honour. She is also a regular attendee of the world’s most exclusive elite club, the Bilderberg Group.

Until recently Aguirre enjoyed an almost spotless reputation. She is, to date, one of worryingly few senior PP politicians not to have been implicated in the Bárcenas scandal, and although rumours keep surfacing about her involvement in the Gurtel political kickbacks affair, the accusations never quite seem to stick. Like Teflon Tony (Blair), Aguirre has an annoying habit of skirting scandal.

At least, that is, until now!

Hubris and Impunity

Having fled like a two-bit fugitive from the law, both in broad daylight and in front of countless witnesses and CCTV cameras, Aguirre should have somewhat more difficulty explaining her actions this time round.

That hasn’t stopped her from launching a full-frontal media attack against the officers that charged her, calling them “machistas” (male chauvinists) and accusing one of the police officers of having “badly parked” the motorbike she herself knocked down. To the undisguised glee of Spain’s right-wing press, she even snidely mocked the officer who reported her (a man who bravely discharged his duty and should be held up as a rare example of honest public service) for seeking counselling after the incident.

How quickly the countess has changed her tune! Just two days before, on April 1st, Aguirre was singing the praises of the country’s riot police for its violent suppression of protests in the country’s capital. “A self-respecting nation cannot allow the police to be attacked; they are the ultimate guarantors of our freedom,” she wrote in one tweet.

Such bare-faced hypocrisy, impunity and hubris have become par for the course among Spain’s political elite. In almost any other European country, Aguirre would have spent Thursday night behind bars. She would probably have also been tested for alcohol or drug consumption — something the police in Madrid never thought to do. Her reputation ruined, her career in tatters, she would have had little choice but to apologise publicly for her criminal behaviour, resign as president of Madrid’s Popular Party, and hope that the law show mercy on her.

But this is Spain we’re talking about and as Spaniards are fond of saying these days, “Spain is different”.

Immunity, the Big Vehicle for Political Corruption

In Rajoy’s Spain, the hard, heavy hand of the law is meant only for the meek and powerless. The same senior government ministers that are frantically creating new laws to criminalise political protest and dissent believe themselves to be quite literally immune from justice. Sadly, judging by the events of the last two-and-a-half years, they’re probably right.

Even when it was discovered late last summer that the Popular Party’s top bosses had taken a leaf out of Richard Nixon’s book by arranging for the destruction of incriminating evidence in the Bárcenas affair, no heads rolled, no arrests were made [watch here how Rajoy sweats and squirms as he is questioned on Bloomberg about the allegations]. Contrast that with Germany, where a number of senior politicians have had to resign after being accused of academic plagiarism. Or with the UK, where the cabinet minister Chris Hunne was made to serve 50 days of an eight-month prison sentence for having blamed a speeding offence he had committed on his wife.

You see, in most other European countries, cases of political corruption tend to be dealt with swiftly and expediently. In Spain they go on forever, or at least until the appropriate statute of limitations kicks in. Governments in other countries realise that to preserve at least the outward appearance of the rule of law, it must at least appear to apply to everyone, regardless of their position or status (of course, with the obvious exception of senior bankers).

In Spain, by contrast, the rule of law no longer applies, if indeed it ever did; instead what we have is the law of rule. On Friday, the Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruis Gallardón, as good as granted complete immunity from prosecution to all senior members of the country’s scandal-tainted royal family, by making sure that in future they can only ever be tried in the country’s supreme court for crimes they have committed — something we can rest assured will never happen!

As for Aguirre, the chances of her paying the price for her reckless actions are razor slim — unless, of course, her political enemies, including Rajoy, decide, for convenience sake, to take her out of the picture. Much more likely is that the police officers who valiantly discharged their duties will lose their jobs, tax payers will pick up the tab for the repairs to Aguirre’s car, senior public servants will be made exempt from traffic laws, and once the public furor dies down (which it no doubt will), Aguirre will be voted in as mayor of Madrid. Such is life in Spain’s mafia state!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. FreddieFourFingers

    Until the common folk start taking justice into our own hands the corruption will never end. Until the powerful get a serious taste of their own medicine they will continue their arrogant criminality. Remember, these people have a lot to lose, and live ensconced in luxury. They’re soft and a bit of terror directed at them will quickly smack them back into line.

    I don’t pretend to understand Spain, but it seems to me the problems there are not all that different from the US. Bribes are the basis of our political system. Its just that our mainstream media calls them campaign donations and “lobbying” so they can go on pretending our system isn’t utterly corrupt. And if a politician has to lose his or her job once in a while due to “corruption” (getting caught out being too flagrant in it, that is) that’s just the price of admission to the power club. The rich are never shy about sacrificing one or two of their own for “the cause”. But its about time WE started picking who gets sacrificed, how and when.

    1. PaulW

      I’m afraid the citizens of western society are too spoiled to produce a Charlotte Corday. If only the Bourbons could have invented the internet!

      1. digi_owl

        More distracted than spoiled. Easier to just park ones behind before the idiot screen and vege out while the latest would be starlets makes a fool of themselves for a go at the brass ring.

  2. gepay

    Spanish proverb “the law is like a spiderweb, it catches flies while the hawk goes free.”

  3. Hugh

    A two-tiered justice system is a feature of kleptocracy. We already have such a system here in the US. The article tries to draw a North-South distinction on how political misdeeds are treated. I think such differences are superficial. Europe’s rich and elites, North and South, as a class, exist beyond the law. Their looting remains essentially untouched and unchallenged.

    1. Ulysses

      Very good point! The recent shameful decision that a Delaware man, convicted of raping his 3-year old daughter, will serve no time in jail proves you right. He’s not even a powerful political figure, but because he is an heir to the DuPont fortune the judge feels obliged to protect him from the consequences of the actions– a consideration she would never show for an inner-city youth convicted of selling a little pot!

  4. Simon

    You could equally write this article with Spain crossed out and USA/UK/etc written in instead.

    There is no more or less corruption anywhere. It is simply everywhere.


    1. allcoppedout

      We could probably create a league table Simon. Indeed, on access to justice USUK is well down the list. In terms of the organisational structure of kleptocracies the law, as Hugh says, has to be tiered.

      I’ve taken the view for more than 30 years that we can’t get change without working out how to police it. China’s current klepto-crackdown is highly organised around a central cadre from the ‘Chinese Youth League’. Of course, this is just some kind of tribal thing. I favour the police metaphor knowing problems like ‘who polices the police’.

      We have instances like this one in the UK. Our corruption is quieter. Our politicians and rich are not really amenable to the law. The Southern European posh just tend to accept more noise.

      The policing argument is very complex, but who are the ‘cops’ when we can vote in a socialist government (just an honest one would do) and all the policies can’t work because, at that point, everything is suddenly global.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I don’t think the Chinese crackdown is tribal in nature. The movement towards capitalism has led to the children of the old guard leaving politics to pursue private interests instead of keeping watch (this is how dynasties fall; and dynasties are short lived), but the Communist Party is still in charge officially. The bulk of the Communist Party under 45ish chose the Communists over day trading. They are socialists by choice as opposed just the normal assortment of psychopaths we cultivate when they move to buy a title in elected office.

        There is no practical way for non-Communists to win top jobs which means the top job holders either work for the bulk of the party elite or they stop working.

      2. Simon

        Yep (sadly) – not that I am a defender of the press (often I am not), but a free press is critical and the moves to stifle them is the first move to achieve government overreach. The loss of democracy has been by stealth but is driven primarily (I believe) by financialization. The bailouts were the loudest (of late) signal of this development, the up-coming ‘bail-ins’ will be the next. There will be a confiscation of assists from the people (“to save the country”), the IMF has already floated the idea of a one off wealth tax (which wont be for the ‘rulers’ you can sure). Ask the Cypriots what they think about the safety of savings – again the ruling elite escaped this confiscation. The law-breaking is becoming more blatant simply because there are no consequences. When the pensions have gone and people are left destitute in their own country, then may, just maybe the reality will have dawned that they have been robbed. Sadly we are often spellbound by our captors and perhaps we will come to believe that it is, in fact, our fault, and that those who enslave us are our saviours.

  5. Brooklin Bridge

    Delaware Superior Court Judge is under fire after sending a wealthy heir to the DuPont fortune to treatment rather than prison because Robert H. Richards IV would “not fare well” in prison after being convicted of raping his 3-year-old daughter.

    Richi Rich, suffering from affluenza, kills four people in a drunk driving accident and walks, “I’m Outta here”

    1. Ulysses

      I’m sorry that I posted my redundant link to the Delaware case above before seeing your post, which has the equally repulsive, and relevant, deadly drunk driver affluenza case!

  6. PaulW

    How far will the Spanish be pushed before they look for a new Franco, a nationalist leader to save them from the EU? The Rape of Russia led to Putin. Actions do eventually create predictable reactions. Apologies to the Peaceful Protest crowd but nothing short of a violent revolution will bring about change anywhere in the West. Nevertheless peaceful protesters can keep their clear consciences while accomplishing nothing meaningful. Meanwhile we internet revolutionaries can enjoy another morning coffee in the comfort of our own homes. But come the day there is no more coffee, no internet and no home then watch out! Do you think public libraries will still have free internet?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Putin was elected without bloodshed. Despite Western propaganda, Putin is no Franco who the United States supported during the Cold War. Someone had to buy from Lockheed, right?

      1. digi_owl

        Franco was pretty much supported since, and during, the civil war (if not by the state then at least by the corporates). He was the prototype for many US supported dictators to come during the cold war.

  7. Andrea

    “You see, in most other European countries, cases of political corruption tend to be dealt with swiftly and expediently.” – from the top post.

    Not so, Spain is just joining the EU way.

    In France, the number of financial and vote pol. scandals that have been obfuscated, put on hold, put off, dismissed, etc. is without end. I’m finding it hard to make a list, it would be so varied and weird.

    So I looked it up…This wiki link gives a list. In French. Wiki, a lot is left out.

    One need not be a F speaker to see the variety, and recognize some names. Most of these (from recent years that is since 2000! are unresolved and still pending…In any case not one person afaik involved in any of these is in jail, but I might be wrong in that some minor figure etc.)

    See the listing of arms deals and killings (Karachi, unresolved to this day), to occult funding, Sarkozy by Bettencourt, to corruption, tax evasion, etc. – all ignored or lost in interminable opaque judiciary procedures designed to send ppl to sleep and showing clearly that the judiciary is a stooge for the PTB.

  8. John

    I am on mini vacation here in Antequera, Spain. Corruption is always a right of passage (badge of honor) for local politicians. It’s expected they come with baggage to the office.

  9. Ignacio

    I feel embarrased as well as angry about this grotesque pice of comedy. Mrs. Aguirre is the most notorious representative of the tea-party-like wing of the ruling conservative party. I think the good news is that this happening will reduce the hope of Esperanza Aguirre (literally Hope Aguirre) to win the mayoralty of Madrid if she is finally appointed as candidate.

  10. Dr Duh

    Look on the bright side. At least they’re not running death squads in the French Basque country anymore. They haven’t kidnapped, tortured and murdered the wrong person in years. (Beatings in the police station or the street don’t count)

Comments are closed.