Just over two weeks ago, Miguel Blesa, the former president of Spanish savings bank Caja Madrid, was sentenced to jail for his alleged role in irregularities in the bank’s purchase of City National Bank of Florida.
It felt like a historic moment. Finally, after five long years of false hopes and dashed dreams, a TBTF bank chief had been sent down for his role in the lead-up to the financial crisis. With the pounding of his gavel, it seemed that Judge Elpidio José Silva had sent Spain spinning into some weird parallel dimension, a quixotean universe where the richest, most powerful and most corrupt individuals could no longer operate above and beyond the law.
It seemed too good to be true, and in the end it was. This week, reality returned with a jolt when Madrid’s High Court, under concerted pressure from both Blesa’s defense team and the public prosecutors, decided to overturn Judge Silva’s ruling. Two days later, Blesa walked out of El Soto prison a free man, to be reunited with his family and the millions of euros he amassed while laying the foundations for the biggest bankruptcy in Spanish history.
But it won’t be just Blesa celebrating the Madrid High Court’s ruling. Banking and corporate executives up and down the land will be breathing a sigh of relief, comforted by the knowledge that, whatever charges they may face in the future, Spain’s government and its highly politicised public prosecutor’s office have got their back.
Back to Business
The message to Spain’s banking and corporate elite could not be clearer: you are free to continue cutting legal corners, “misappropriating” funds, bribing politicians, evading taxes and laundering money. In a startling admission, Juan Rosell, the president of the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organizations (CEOE) — an institution that prides itself on being the “voice” of Spanish business — said that if Blesa had been punished for his model of management, “in the end all of us could go to prison.”
Which, ironically, is precisely what happened to Rosell’s predecessor at the helm of the CEOE, Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, one of just a handful of Spain’s business elite to have felt the sharp end of the law in this post-crisis era. Díaz Ferrán is now serving a prison sentence after being found guilty of concealment of property from the authorities, tax evasion and money laundering while CEO of now-bankrupt Spanish travel agency Grupo Marsans. He is also accused of receiving a very dubious loan package worth some 26 million euros from Blesa during his stewardship of Caja Madrid.
Blesa, meanwhile, denies all charges against him, and is now calling for an “impartial judge” to preside over his trial.
And so the witch hunt against Judge Silva begins — a witch hunt that bears a striking resemblance to the recent smear campaign orchestrated by powerful right-wing groups against Spain’s most renowned legal figure, Baltasar Garzon.
Prosecuting Judges, Pardoning Bankers
Garzon first came to international attention, in 1998, for issuing a warrant for the arrest of former Chilean President, General Augusto Pinochet. Twelve years later, however, he was disqualified from the Spanish bench after daring to launch an investigation into the torture, disappearances and summary executions perpetrated from 1932-1952 under General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship – a definite no-no in a country that has, to all intents and purposes, undergone a collective lobotomy of all the human rights abuses that occurred during the Franco years.
Garzon was specifically accused by the government and many of his judicial colleagues of overreaching his authority by ignoring Spain’s 1977 Amnesty Law, which provided all former members of Franco’s government and police state with blanket protection from prosecution for crimes they had committed.
As Alejandro M. Garro and Cesar Chelala wrote in the Japan Times, the case launched against Garzon set a worrying precedent:
“Whatever personal opinion one may hold on Garzon as an individual and beyond his controversial civil war investigation, the decision to go after this judge for opening an investigation of Franco’s worst human rights abuses seriously undermines judicial independence and Spain’s credibility in fighting against impunity. More importantly, it ignores that, under international law, Spain’s sovereign decision to forgive and forget its past cannot be adopted at the expense of the victims’ right to justice, truth and adequate reparations for serious and systematic human rights abuses.”
Since Garzon’s dismissal, the Spanish government has directly intervened in two other high-profile cases: first, to drop all charges against the King’s daughter La Infanta Cristina for her role in the Noos Scandal; and now, to overturn Silva’s decision to refuse Blesa bail.
In this sorry excuse of a democracy, independent-minded judges are hounded and prosecuted for daring to protect the public from big-time perpetrators of white-collar crime, while senior bankers, corporate executives, kings, princes and politicians are insulated from the consequences of their criminal activities.
Living in Griftopia
In his book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids and the Long Con That is Breaking America, Matt Taibbi wrote that there are two Americas, one for the Grifter Class and one for everybody else:
“In everybody-else land, the world of small businesses and wage-earning employees, the government is something to be avoided, an overwhelming, all-powerful entity whose attentions usually presage some kind of financial setback, if not complete ruin. In the grifter world, however, government is a slavish lap dog that the financial companies… use as a tool for making money.”
Unfortunately, the “grifter world” of which Taibbi speaks is not a phenomenon constrained to U.S. shores. It has spread to virtually every village, town and city of the Western world, and its dogma — the corporatocracy’s ruthless pursuit of wealth and power at any moral, social, environmental or financial cost — is now the dominant paradigm of the world in which we live.
In a flagrant breach of their duties to their citizenry, governments around the world have pawned themselves to the highest bidders, and are now little more than fawning agents of a dominant class of super criminals. It is hardly any surprise, therefore, that not a single member of that class — the senior banker caste — has faced the music for their role in arguably the biggest financial heist of modern history.
And it’s a trend that seems set to stay, if not grow. For as long as the world’s biggest banks continue to pay — or, better put, own — the piper (that is, national and regional governments, regulators and central banking institutions), they will continue to operate beyond all bounds of legal or moral authority.