The corrupt grow old without going to jail

The slowness of the justice system dilutes the echo of scandals that take years to be heard

Jordi Ribalaygue
4 min
Corruption grows old without going to prison

BarcelonaBartomeu Muñoz avoids setting foot in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, where he was mayor until he left the City Council in handcuffs 11 and a half years ago. He also avoids anyone who might remind him of the events that will land him in jail. "He decided he didn't want to talk to anyone linked to Santa Coloma shortly after the sentence," explains a person who dealt with him until the former socialist mayor stopped picking up the phone. Muñoz restricted his circle when Spain's National Court found him guilty in 2018 over the Pretoria case, a plot of urban corruption involving around seven million euros between bribes and illicit gains. Despite the court's ruling nearly three years ago against a network that was born in 2002, no one involved has yet been jailed.

The Supreme Court in December upheld a jail sentence of five years and nine months for Muñoz, who received 1.1 million euros from the scheme. However, it is not known when he will enter prison, although after two years spent on appeals he shouldn't be able to postpone it any longer. "Now it's a matter of starting the procedures for the execution of the sentence, which have been delayed. It depends on the Audiencia Nacional, but that is like the Kakfa's castle," judicial sources say, who attribute the delay to an overwhelmed bureaucracy. The former mayor was also issued a €3.4m fine for the former mayor, which, according to his entourage, will force him to declare himself bankrupt because, beyond the seized assets, he cannot pay it in full. The confiscation, however, is pending.

Ex mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Bartomeu Muñoz, in an archive image

The slowness in administering justice has diluted scandals that have aged in the courts. The defendants in the Palau case took almost 11 years to start serving their sentences and there is no date for the trial on the possible irregular financing of CDC that has been unraveling since 2014. The Inipro case threatens to imprison former Tarragona mayor Josep Fèlix Ballesteros in a pending trial for an alleged diversion of funds in favor of the PSC a decade ago. Nor have the alleged bribes of the Manga case been judged, which shook the Girona district eight years ago and has been delayed while it was discussed which court had to take the case.

Collapsed courts

"The normal courts are designed for quick trials of everyday crimes, but they do not have the tools to do the exhaustive investigations of a macro-case. As the collapse is systemic, they do what they have at hand and corruption cases are delayed," describes a judicial source. Officials would be needed just for these proceedings, but there is not enough staff and they are not properly trained due to lack of resources," he adds.

The Pretoria case took more than two years to go to trial after seven years of investigations. The undue delays in the process have resulted in reduced sentences. Among others, former PSC MP Luis Garcia, a.k.a. Luigi, has benefited: the Public Prosecutor's Office asked for 13 years in prison but he has been given only four, after concealing the collection of €5.8 million in illicit funds.

Sentence reductions also hang above the Mercurio case, which affects the former mayor of Sabadell Manuel Bustos (PSC). "There is risk because there has been a tremendous drop in activity in the court for almost two years. We have had changes of judges and officials that has been difficult to replace. The new ones had to catch up in a very complex case," says lawyer Raul Garcia Barroso, who represents the prosecution of Sabadell Lliure de Corrupció.

Manuel Bustos, ex mayor of Sabadell, with Pere Navarro, leader of the PSC

The lawyer warns of the difficulties for an ordinary court to reconcile a summary that branched into more than thirty derived cases and infringements of the day to day: "There is a piece closed more than three years ago which only needs the order to go to trial. The problem is that i takes a week's work to do just this so that we do not invalidate the case. It is difficult in a collapsed court system with limited means. For some months now there has been a reinforcement judge and accumulated resources are being brought forward. But there is no investigation work." In the Mercurio case, no accused has been imprisoned. Bustos only took an online course on anti-corruption to get out of 16 months' imprisonment for having lobbied for the placement of a high-ranking official. The Supreme Court has ratified another three-year sentence against him for having fines withdrawn from his wife and children, but it remains to be seen if the Court enforces it. It could be suspended because, in fact, they are two separate sentences, each under two years - the minimum in Spain for a prison sentence to have to be served. Recently the former Socialist official Francisco Fernandez has admitted that he kept €32,877 of public money but returned it in exchange for being dispensed from three years behind bars.

Frustration and damage

"It generates frustration," says García Barroso, who attests that an official of the Federation of Municipalities refused to appear in an alleged misuse of funds case against the body because he believed that Bustos is a "political corpse". "They are cases that start strong but, little by little, lose relevance, come to be seen as a historical fact and are not remembered when voting," he thinks.

There are also defendants who consider themselves affected. Jordi Soriano was a PP councillor in Sabadell and is awaiting trial for allegedly receiving bribes. He denies the accusations and complains that "facts from 14 years ago" have not been clarified, which, he says, have damaged his project to create Andorra Airlines. The fact that he is being investigated dissuaded investors from participating. I had to step back and let others take the reins because I was a hindrance," admits Soriano, who does not understand such a long wait to get to trial: "They mention me in the Palau case and tell me not to hurry, that this is going slow.