Spain’s Corruption Crisis Reaches the Palace

Transparency International estimates that 1,000 corruption investigations are now under way across the country, most involving charges that public officials took advantage of the economic boom to enrich themselves. In the highest-profile case yet, Inaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law of King Juan Carlos, was stripped of his official duties in December pending an investigation into charges that he skimmed millions of dollars from padded government contracts. Urdangarin, summoned to appear before prosecutors on Feb. 25, has denied wrongdoing.

Fresh allegations seem to be cropping up almost daily. The ex-president of the Balearic Islands went on trial in January on charges including embezzlement and fraud, while police in Andalucia accused that region’s former employment chief with spending $1.2 million in public money on cocaine and other personal purchases. And José Blanco, the longtime Socialist Party No. 2, is under investigation for influence-peddling in the northwestern region of Galicia. Lawyers for all of the accused say the charges are false.

Such reports come at an awkward time for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s new government, which is asking citizens to swallow more than $19 billion in tax increases and spending cuts, while promising a crackdown on tax evasion. Rallies against the planned austerity measures drew tens of thousands of protesters in several cities on Jan. 26.

With an absolute majority in parliament, Rajoy will have no trouble getting those measures enacted, says Alejandro Quiroga, a Spanish political scientist at Newcastle University in Britain. But, Quiroga says, “there will be a price to pay,” with the schedule of planned corruption trials now stretching into 2014. “The contradiction between politicians taking advantage of public money, while asking the public to deal with huge austerity measures, is going to get worse with time.”

A Rapid Slide Into Corruption As recently as a decade ago, Spain was considered one of the world’s least-corrupt countries. But over the past 7 years, its ranking has slid from 22 nd to 31 st place on Transparency International’s annual survey of perceptions of corruption worldwide.

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