Spain’s Chief Justice Quits Over Claims of Misusing Public Money



MADRID — Spain’s image suffered another blow on Thursday when the chief justice of the Supreme Court resigned after being accused by a fellow judge of claiming vacations as business expenses.

The court’s chief justice, Carlos Dívar, also quit as leader of another institution, the General Council of the Judiciary, which acts as the administrator of Spain’s judiciary.

Chief Justice Dívar’s expense scandal came to light while the judiciary was being strained by several corruption cases against politicians from the country’s main parties. The monarchy has also been tainted by the investigations, with the son-in-law of King Juan Carlos I becoming the first member of the royal family to appear in court, in February.

Both cases have become a sore point while Spain is struggling with a recession and high unemployment.

In the latest case, José Manuel Gómez Benítez, another judge and a member of the General Council, blew the whistle last month on Chief Justice Dívar’s trips and sought — unsuccessfully — to get the attorney general’s office to prosecute the chief justice on charges of misusing public money.

But pressure on Chief Justice Dívar grew as the Spanish news media pursued their own inquiries into his expense claims over the past four years. Reporters unearthed as many as 32 long weekend trips, for which the chief justice claimed about $35,000 in business expenses, even though he had apparently spent that time in Marbella in southern Spain, and at other beach resorts.

While Chief Justice Dívar dug in his heels, denying any wrongdoing, some of the officials he had supposedly met for business during his trips started denying that such meetings had taken place or refusing to confirm them.

The Supreme Court had backed its chief justice, voting last week against pursuing any criminal sanctions against him and citing a lack of evidence.

Chief Justice Dívar, 70, is a third-generation judge with conservative leanings, who nevertheless straddled Spain’s bipartisan political system.

Javier Cremades, chairman of the law firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo, said, “Spain’s economic crisis has generated a healthy hypersensitivity toward the use of public funds and the privileges of the authorities.”

Chief Justice Dívar’s resignation is “bad news for Spain because it projects a poor image of our most important institutions,” Mr. Cremades concluded.

It is the first resignation by a leader of the Supreme Court, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this week, with Chief Justice Dívar presiding over the ceremony. But the Supreme Court also prompted international controversy in February when it convicted and suspended Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most prominent crusading judge, for overstepping his authority in a wiretapping case.

Manuel Conthe, an arbitration lawyer in Madrid for the law firm Bird & Bird, said Chief Justice Dívar should have resigned immediately to avoid further damaging the reputation of Spain’s legal system. Mr. Conthe, a former chairman of Spain’s stock market regulator, said Chief Justice Dívar’s ability to take advantage of the loose expense-monitoring rules applied by the General Council showed that it was “a politicized body that is in need of urgent reform.”

Chief Justice Dívar announced his resignation on Thursday during a meeting of the General Council. At the end of May, he said he would not show “institutional irresponsibility” by caving in to outside pressure and resigning. Instead, he denied committing “any irregularity, neither judicial, nor moral, nor political.”

Chief Justice Dívar also offered at the time to tighten oversight within the judiciary to ensure “absolute transparency in spending and budget” matters.

Courtesy: The New York Times

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