Europe, Globe

Spain: sun, food, fiesta… and corruption

While the citizens await with apprehension the predicted measures of austerity that will be announced by their politicians, these exact politicians appear day after day in the news due to their various scandals.


Javier Duque


According to the barometer of the Centre of Sociological Investigations (CIS), during March 2012, their politicians and ‘corruption’ were two of the four largest concerns of the Spanish population, surpassed only by unemployment and the economy.

How is it possible that the individuals elected to improve the lives of the general population are, after 15 consecutive months, one of their greatest problems? Why is there so much corruption in Spain?

To begin with, there are the statistics which demonstrate the magnitude of the problem, for example, from 1995-2005 the number of buildings constructed in Spain increased by 40%; the approved plans for 2006 saw the construction of one and a half million homes and 300 golf courses, and the proceedings undertaken by the district attorney against the alleged crimes relating to urbanization increased by more than half in recent years.

The politicization of public administrations is one of the most prominent causes of the phenomenon, in which the institutions that are most likely to be corrupt are those with a greater number of employees selected by the current politician.

In any one European city, of the countries less plagued by corruption than Spain, which have less than 50,000 inhabitants, there are no more than three people whose employment depends on which political party wins the elections.

At the other extreme, in a Spanish city of a similar size there can be hundreds of people whose employment depends on which party is announced as the winner. It is possibly for this reason that corruption has become an endemic problem. In fact, in the regional elections of 2008, 70% of the 700 politicians convicted of corruption were re-elected.

It appears that a large number of voters, whose finances are not affected directly, prefer to have a corrupt politician in power as long as they won’t receive the bill.

On a global scale, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which measures corruption in 186 countries, placed Spain in the 31st position with a grade of 6.2. In spite of the fact that countries such as France (position 25) or Germany (position 14) aren’t much better off, that Spain is a fertile ground for corruption is indisputable.

Jesús Lizcano, president of Transparency International, notes, as another possible cause, the lack of a law of transparency through which the citizens can see how public funds are managed by more than 20,600 public agencies in the country.

According to Lizcano, the rule is simple: “With more information and democratic control, there is less room for corruption”.

Although the first draft of this law, of which Spain is the only country with more than a million inhabitants that doesn’t already have one, was approved last month, it appears that the Spanish people are finally able to see who adjudicates public contracts, agreements and competitions.

According to a survey taken by the European Barometer, the Spanish citizens (88% of them) consider that one of the greatest problems relating to corruption is due to a lack of transparency in public spending.

Urban Corruption

Among the various forms of corruption, the most common in Spain is corruption relating to urbanization, which is deemed to have profited from the property boom which saw Spain become the country with the fastest rising property prices. 35-40% of the public spending came from the urban sector and in 2005 more homes were built in Spain than in the United Kingdom, Germany and France combined.

Reclassifications of land have been the key: they involve the purchase of rural land which cannot be built upon at the time but, later, following technical assessments, are accredited as potential building sites.

Without doubt, the greatest scheme of this kind in the Spanish democracy has been the “Caso Malaya”, which brought to light an extensive series of criminal activities including embezzlement of public funds, bribery and prevarication.

Among those accused were ex-mayors of Marbella, councillors, lawyers and businessmen. It is estimated that the total balance of this operation was 2,400 million euros and resulted in 95 convictions.

The brains of the outfit, the former urban assessor Juan Antonio Roca, decorated his various houses with 300 works of art and, in one of them, a tiger. In precisely this region, Marbella, 6,000 new homes have been built since 1991, half of which are illegal. Furthermore, the surface area of land available for development has surpassed the original 35%, reaching 65%.

And the Crown

However, those accused are not always politicians. Corruption has even managed to reach the Spanish Royal Family. On the 29th December 2011, the son-in-law of the king, Iñaki Urdangarín was implicated in the “Caso Nóos”.

Iñaki Urdangarín

The Nóos Institute, which gave its name to the case, is a non-profit organization, contracted to develop social projects related to sport and corporate responsibility.

From 2004, Urdangarín presided over this organization. He left his position in 2006, when he was approached by Diego Torres, his associate and ex-professor from the university where he completed his Masters in Business Administration and Management.

The son-in-law of the King is accused of embezzlement, fraud, the falsification of documents and prevarication in his work with Nóos, where he oversaw important contracts with organizations and diverted some of the funds to false corporations that he had created.

“Gürtel”, “Pretoria”, “Palma Arena”, “Mercasevilla”…are just a few of the now famous cases of corruption in Spain. These episodes bring political shame to a society that already has enough to worry about.

(Translated by Oliver Harris)

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