SPAIN is the most corrupt country in the entire EU. It accounts for most of the €120 billion that either seeps away from the EU’s coffers or is never returned, and the problem is getting worse.
Some will say, a la Nigel Farage, that the EU itself is a poorly regulated body, whose audited accounts have been delayed for years, and where officials appointed to public office can latch themselves onto a gravy train that meanders slowly but inexorably along.
Maybe so. But another group has now joined the Commission in issuing a damning indictment of Spanish public political life. The authoritative Berlin-based group, Transparency International (TI), says Spain’s problem is bad and getting worse.
Although not painted in the dark red of Somalia or Russia on TI’s corruption perception map, Spain is a deep orange blotch on an otherwise yellow western Europe, rivalled only by Italy in the shady sweepstakes.
Two years ago prime minister Mariano Rajoy told the nation that “there is no such thing as generalised corruption,” offering no prizes for viewers who correctly guessed the operative word.
Since then his administration and the wider country has been rocked by a relentless wave of corruption scandals brazen enough to raise the eyebrows of even the most seasoned Spanish observers.
There was the PP leader filmed counting wads of cash after accepting party financing in exchange for construction contracts: the top banker blowing €15 million on lavish company expenses: the kickback scheme masterminded by a politician who insisted on being called Don Vito in tribute to The Godfather. You had the fantastical tale of Carlos Fabra, who refuses to be seen without his sunglasses on, who spent more than €10,000 of public funds building a statue of himself, and claimed to have won the lottery four times when questioned over money laundering allegations, and who was once dubbed a “model citizen” by Rajoy.
Next month one of the biggest corruption scandals in history, the Gurtel case, will finally go to trial but as any long-term expat will tell you such national humiliations are just the tip of a very deep iceberg.
Hardly a week goes by without a mayor landing themselves in hot water over some racket or another. Football, property, banks, construction, public contracts, campaign financing, water, electricity. It’s hard to name a single facet of Spanish life which isn’t affected by corruption in one way or another.
Take the spectacular case of Isabel Pantoja.
A prodigious singing talent as a child, Pantoja stole the heart of the nation and sold millions of albums, bringing flamenco back into the main stream. An Andalucian of gypsy descent, she married the most iconic bullfighter of the era, Francisco Rivera, and became the ‘widow of Spain’ after he was gored to death in the ring.
Yet perhaps the most stereotypically Spanish part of her life story was Pantoja’s involvement in the notorious Malaya case, which has so far seen billions seized from money-laundering councilmen, business leaders and lawyers.
She was romantically involved with disgraced former Marbella mayor Julian Munoz, who is still languishing in prison for his role in the affair.
Corruption simply seems to be part and parcel of life in Spain, which is all well and good until it hits you in the pocket, or makes your own waking life a nightmare.