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Some Spanish Socialists get caught with their hands in the till

''A hundred years of honesty'' was the Socialist campaign slogan back in 1982 . An earnest Felipe Gonzalez with choirboy looks promised fellow Spaniards change, moral reform, and a new ethics in politics. He promised to eliminate the so-called ''reptile funds,'' which were unspecified funds in government ministries and official institutions allegedly used to buy or bribe journalists.

But now, the Socialist prime minister is dogged by a massive scandal involving his own party. A haggard Gonzalez has made no comment about the uproar involving the Socialist regional government of Murcia - the biggest bribe scandal since the Franco dictatorship.

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Fifteen months ago, Alfonso Guerra, now deputy prime minister, said, ''We Socialists might stick our foot in our mouth, but never our hands in the cash box.'' But later a Socialist official stuck his hands somewhere and allegedly gave 500,000 pesetas (about $3,300) to two local journalists as the first payment in exchange for laying off criticism of the regional premier, Andres Hernandez Ros, who had been accused of nepotism and exorbitant salary increases. An equal installment was supposed to come later.

Reporters Joaquin Garcia Cruz and Jose Luis Salanova Fernandez of the Roman Catholic-owned daily La Verdad said they were told that their ''campaign of criticism'' in the paper was ''destabilizing the institution of regional governments.''

After consulting with their editor and a lawyer, the reporters agreed to accept the bribe in order to expose the scandal. La Verdad ran the story and filed suit for attempted bribery. Hernandez Ros was forced to resign under pressure from national and regional Socialist Party officials, but he continues as secretary-general of the regional Socialist Party.

Francisco Serrano, the Socialist city councilman and treasurer of the regional Socialist Party who allegedly offered the bribe to the two journalists, was expelled from the party in disgrace. He has become the scapegoat in the scandal.

The regime of Hernandez Ros had already acquired a reputation within Socialist circles as ''flamboyant,'' and he maintained a shaky hold over the regional party.

When the central government put a 6.5 percent ceiling on public-sector salary increases, Hernandez Ros gave himself a 34 percent raise and his regional ministers a 17 percent raise, La Verdad reported. The opposition Popular Alliance Federation found 46 documented cases of nepotism.

The Murcia scandal comes on the heels of the resignation of another Socialist regional premier a month ago. Andalucian Prime Minister Rafael Escuredo resigned after press reports accused him of building a suburban home with substantial discounts from the construction company and architect that were awarded the contracts for Seville's Expo-92.

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Although the Murcia bribe scandal is the most blatant case of Socialist vulnerability to corruption, Spanish journalists claim corruption is becoming more and more obvious, especially at a local level.

Veteran journalist Pilar Urbano of the conservative daily ABC claims municipal corruption is ''rampant.'' Urbano has published a series of recent columns exposing Socialist ''nepotism'' on a national, regional, and local level.

''When Socialists divorce or separate from their wives or girlfriends,'' she claimed in an interview, ''they get them a job in the administration instead of shelling out alimony.''

She added that hiring each others' wives, even happily married ones, was the most common form of nepotism, although brothers, sisters, and in-laws were also favored with jobs. Ms. Urbano, currently indicted on five slander charges by Socialist officials, claims to have more than 50 documented cases of amiguismo, or the giving of jobs and favors to amigos.

Perhaps after 40 years of dictatorship, most Spaniards aren't alarmed by what might be considered dubious practices in other democracies. Guerra, for example, openly prided himself on having ''sleeper spies'' within the opposition the Popular Alliance.

He boasted in public that he had advance copies of the parliamentary speeches of opposition leaders. Embarrassed and refusing to admit the presence of such ''spies,'' Popular Alliance spokesmen counterattacked, claiming their telephones were tapped.

Many Spanish journalists claim there has always been indirect bribery on the part of ministries or state-run companies. Some journalists recall actual payroll lists of journalists in public companies and ministries under the Franco dictatorship and during the early transition.

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