Recent years have not exactly been kind to Luís Bárcenas Gutiérrez. For decades he served as treasurer of the governing People’s Party, a position which afforded him de facto control over the party’s accounts and money movements. In 2009, however, a money laundering investigation by Swiss authorities discovered more than €30 million spread across an assortment of Swiss bank accounts, all under his name.
It soon came to light that for almost 20 years Bárcenas had “allegedly” been paying under-the-table bonuses to senior figures in the Popular Party (PP), including, allegedly, the former and current prime-ministers José Maria Aznar and Mariano Rajoy. During that time large construction companies gave the party millions of euros in undeclared donations, which were promptly redirected by Bárcenas into the deep pockets of senior party members and the bank accounts of the party’s regional offices.
Although these illegal practices appear to have been common knowledge to the party leadership since 1990, Bárcenas has been made the solitary fall guy in the affair. In January 2013 he was sentenced to jail without bail.
As he awaits his sentence in the rather austere surroundings of Madrid’s El Soto prison, Bárcenas’s once-fine name, now synonymous with political corruption in Spain, is once again being dragged through the press-grinder. The reason? According to Spain’s finance website El Confidencial, a taped phone conversation between two members of the Neapolitan mafia, la Camorra.
It reads like a scene out of a Scorcese movie: On March 25th Ciro Rovai, the leader of the “Rovai clan,” who was arrested by Spanish police this Tuesday, was caught on tape telling a fellow Camorra member that he had been in contact with the former PP treasurer about the possibilities of “investing” in Madrid’s now-doomed Eurovegas project. “He (Barcenas) told me that the mafia and politics are one and the same”, Ravai recounted.
The conversation is important for a number of reasons. First, it raises serious questions about whether Bárcenas continued to play a role in the People’s Party’s decision making, despite the criminal case against him – something the Spanish government has doggedly denied. It also casts a very bright spotlight on the possible links between the People’s Party and criminal enterprises.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the cozy relations between Spain’s political class and international mafia. In an interview with the Spanish television channel La Sexta (summarized here), Roberto Saviano, the author of the bestselling novels Gomorra and Zero Zero Zero, said the following:
For 20 years Spain has been the European gateway for the cocaine market. Apart from Spaniards, everyone knows that Spain is a country where narco bosses go to live… Whenever convenient, Spanish politicians ignore this huge problem. Among the first people to invest in Spain after the fall of the Franco regime were [the Italian mobsters] Antonio Bardellino, Nunzio de Falco and the Tano Badalamenti organization. That’s why they call it the “Costa Nostra”.
The Costra Nostra’s territory extends from Spain’s southernmost shores (the Costa del Sol) to the rugged North Eastern coastline of Galicia. Boasting a wealth of hidden bays and isolated beaches, Galicia has long been one of Europe’s most important entry points for contraband merchandise, including cocaine from South America. Judging by recent scandals and allegations, some of the men in charge of the supply routes of this huge trade have furnished surprisingly close ties to some of the region’s senior politicians.
In April 2013, the El País published a series of photos from 1995 showing the president of the Galician regional parliament, Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, enjoying both a luxury yacht cruise and a mountain road trip with Marciel Dorado, a known smuggler and widely suspected capo of the Galician drug-trafficking mafia. Not that the revelation of said relations seemed to faze Nuñez Feijóo, who resorted to the People’s Party’s now-standard defense against accusations of corruption: namely, to play dumb and deny all possible wrong doing, even as evidence mounts to the contrary.
“The photos are what they are: photos. There is nothing behind them,” he said. “No connection whatsoever to contracts with the Xunta [Galicia’s regional government].”
And just like that, the scandal vanished.
Drugs, Banks and Politicians
Clearly, cozy ties between politicians and organized crime are hardly a problem exclusive to Spain. Nor are they a new problem: in 1920s Chicago the political class was perfectly at ease hobnobbing at speakeasies with Al Capone and his motley crew of ruthless bootleggers. Indeed, throughout history marriages of convenience have taken place between people and organizations on opposite sides of the legal divide. Lest we forget, in the mid 19th Century, the British Empire became arguably history’s largest ever drug trafficker when it began exporting – at the barrel of a gun – vast quantities of opium grown in India to China.
However, as John le Carré laid out in his brilliant 2010 novel Our Kind of Traitor, what makes this new phase of globalization different is that big capital now enjoys the right of way across pretty much every border and free access to just about every port of call, including the “see no evil, hear no evil” jurisdictions of the world’s myriad tax havens. As long as this trend continues – and given the current pressures to further liberalize the financial system, it almost certainly will – the thin line between so-called “respectable” and criminal society will continue to blur. A perfect illustration of this was when Forbes magazine decided, in 2009, to include Chapo Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted (and recently captured) drug lord, in its Rich List.
Money, after all, has no moral compunction. It can move with remarkable ease and speed from the blood-soaked operations of Mexican narco traficantes into the construction project of a luxury 5-star hotel in Barcelona. Indeed, according to Saviano, Spain’s historic construction boom was quite literally coke-fueled, with much of the money that kept it going coming from the international drugs trade.
Money has never been more mobile, and in this age of post-crisis financial crisis, our governments and banks just can’t get enough of it. In the wake of Lehman’s collapse, Antonio María Costa, the former Under-Secretary of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, warned that the European banking system had lowered its security barriers, opening the floodgates to drugs money. Indeed, Costa went on the record, stating that the European financial systems were as good as saved by the global drugs trade – a very serious accusation, but one to which not a single European government, bank or EU institution has deigned to respond. The silence, as they say, is deafening. By Don Quijones.
According to the official story, the people of Europe will benefit enormously from the banking union; it imposes greater control and tighter regulation of the banks and saves taxpayers from having to bail them out. Or so it would seem. Read…. Why Are TBTF Banks So Happy With The EU Banking Union?