LEGAL SCANDAL

Chief justice insists he will not resign over Marbella travel expenses

Dívar explains to reporters that controversial visits were work-related and not luxury pleasure trips

Carlos Dívar faces the press at Thursday's news conference. / SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

More than three weeks after a criminal complaint was filed against him, Chief Justice Carlos Dívar spoke publicly for the first time on Thursday about his controversial weekend trips to Marbella – reiterating that he didn’t do anything wrong in charging the judiciary for the 20 excursions and shrugging off calls for his resignation.

At a news conference, the 70-year-old Dívar said that it was unfortunate that this ongoing issue was tarnishing the judiciary’s image at a time when the country is going through a deep economic crisis.

“I want to categorically point out that there were no irregularities about the journeys in question, and in all my activities as chief justice I have followed all the rules,” Dívar stated. “None of the trips have preempted auditing standards.”

Dívar’s unprecedented appearance before reporters took place after he had announced to the members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) legal watchdog that he wanted to explain his trips to the press.

“Concerning my frequent visits to Marbella, I must tell you that I make official trips to different places across Spain. And when I go to Andalusia, I try to mix official business with activities in the province where I was born [Málaga], he said, adding that he separated his personal expenses from the official costs he charged to the judiciary.

One thing is to say that a restaurant is luxurious and another thing is to say that it is pricey"

When asked by a journalist if he intended to step down as chief justice and president of the CGPJ, Dívar said: “No, the subject of resigning has not presented itself, although five members have asked for it. The rest, one by one, have told me that they were not going to ask for my resignation. It is my responsibility to continue as head of this institution at this time because, among other things, if I were to resign it would be an acknowledgement of guilt regarding the allegations made against me, and that is not the case.”

On May 8, fellow CGPJ member José Manuel Gómez Benítez filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against Dívar for charging six trips to Puerto Banús, outside Marbella, to the CGPJ. Following a subsequent search of expense records, Benítez expanded his complaint, charging that the chief justice filed for 13,000 euros in reimbursements for 20 trips taken between 2008 and March of this year.

According to Benítez, Dívar stayed at luxury hotels, such as Marbella Club Golf Resort & Spa and Puente Romano, and charged the judiciary for dinners for two at expensive restaurants. The Attorney General’s Office decided to drop the complaint after deciding, among other things, that the chief justice did not violate any law.

“I travel a lot on the weekends; I serve as president of the council 24 hours a day. I have to take the chance to travel on the weekends, and the protocol expenditures that every president has been entitled to, in some cases, are secret and for that reason discretion is warranted. All types of publicity should be avoided so as not to implicate any other person,” he said.

“With respect to the luxurious restaurants, one thing is to say that a restaurant is luxurious and another thing is to say that it is pricey. You can determine this by the bills. Of those 40 dinners, I paid for a large majority of those in 2011 and 2008. And the costs were not excessively expensive for the number of people who were there.”

Dívar pledged that the CGPJ would study in the coming weeks new proposals to make the council members’ expenditures more transparent. “And if there is some secret activity that I must attend, I will inform the vice president of the council exactly where I will be, following the example of the speaker in Congress who has a secret service committee.”

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