Scandals cast long shadow over Gonzalez

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The Independent Online
SPAIN'S emerging dirty laundry threatens to emulate even Italy's impressive example. Opposition media are baying for the resignation of the Socialist Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez. The conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), short of enough votes to unseat Mr Gonzalez, is threatening a 'veiled vote of no-confidence' in Congress next week - an all-out verbal onslaught and a demand for specific answers.

The PP spokesman, Rodrigo Rato, said Mr Gonzalez must have been long aware of a string of alleged official corruption cases and that he should take responsibility during his State of the Nation address to Congress next Tuesday.

New scandals have been emerging almost daily as politicians, bankers and businessmen leak to the media the 'dossiers' - files gathered against potential enemies via private detectives and phone-tapping - that are a way of life in Spain.

After the Central Bank intervened to take over the failing Bank Banesto last December, the latter's main offices were found to be bugged, presumably from within. The latest and potentially most-serious scandal involves the former Central Bank governor, Mariano Rubio, who is accused by the media and opposition politicians of illegal stock-market transactions during his term in office from 1984 to 1992.

Mr Gonzalez, who appointed Mr Rubio, now 62, and had always defended him, appeared to cast him to the wolves on Monday when he suggested a parliamentary commission might be set up to investigate him. Congress responded quickly yesterday by saying it would call Mr Rubio before its Economics Committee, along with other senior officials.

Media reports accused Mr Rubio of making around pounds 500,000 over a three-month period in a single stock market transaction via intermediaries. Mr Rubio denied any wrongdoing. He had stepped down as governor in July 1992 after an investigation by Congress into alleged irregularities linking him with a failed bank, Intercorp.

A parliamentary commission is already investigating the former chief of the Guardia Civil paramilitary police, Luis Roldan, on allegations that he earned an estimated pounds 2.5m by taking commissions on Guardia Civil contracts and from the government's so- called 'reserved funds'. Media reports here suggest the funds, presumed to have been set aside for intelligence operations, have been widely used as a kind of 'slush fund' to pay parallel tax-free salaries to senior officials.

Mr Roldan, head of the Guardia Civil from 1986 to 1993, insists he gained his wealth from shrewd investing and an inheritance from his taxi-driver father, a statement that brought wry comments from other taxi-drivers in his home city of Zaragoza.

For Mr Gonzalez, the timing of the latest scandals was not good. His government had just launched a nation-wide press and television campaign with the slogan: 'Get rid of fraud. It's up to us all.'

The high-profiles of Mr Rubio and Mr Roldan have thrust corruption on to the front pages, but the list of scandals during Mr Gonzalez's 11-year rule is long. His party is being investigated for taking funds from banks and big businesses in return for non-existent 'reports'; half of Madrid's anti-drugs squad was detained last year for paying off informants in drugs or selling some themselves; the military intelligence service was found recently to have been bugging the offices and tapping the phones of the Barcelona news paper La Vanguardia; two Spanish police officers in jail for hiring mercenaries to kill Basque sep aratists in the Eighties are threatening to 'sing' if they are not pardoned.

A young magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, tried to solve the Basque case. He said the police officers had been paid from government 'reserved funds'. Mr Garzon's trail stopped short when the then Interior Minister, Jose Barrion uevo, said the use to which funds had been put was a state secret.

Mr Garzon was suddenly 'signed up' by Mr Gonzalez before last June's elections to run as an independent on the Socialist Party's list. The Prime Minister said Mr Garzon would head a parliamentary commission into corruption. He never did.