Supreme Court chief justice steps down over expenses-paid weekend trips

Dívar tells judicial council members he has been “victimized” and had “done nothing wrong”

Dívar leaves the CGPJ meeting after announcing his decision to resign. / ULY MARTÍN

Saying that he was a victim of “a cruel and disproportionate campaign,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Dívar on Thursday resigned under pressure for charging 32 long weekend trips to Marbella and other Spanish destinations to the judiciary.

The 70-year-old Dívar told his fellow members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) that he is “not aware that he did anything wrong” but acknowledged that the situation had become “unbearable” for the entire judicial branch.

Addressing the 20 members of the panel, Dívar, who also steps down as CGPJ president, said he held “no grudges” against anyone for making public the cost and nature of his trips, during which he mixed official functions with private pleasure, passing on much of the combined cost to the state coffers.

It was the first time in the history of the Spanish judiciary, which is celebrating its bicentennial this week, a chief justice or a CGPJ president has stepped down from his position.

The CGPJ vice president, Fernando de Rosa, will temporarily take over the panel until the legal mechanisms to select Dívar’s successor are put into place. By law, De Rosa said before the press, Dívar’s resignation won’t be official until the Cabinet approves the decree, and it is signed by King Juan Carlos and published in the official BOE gazette. Only then can elections for a new president be held among the 20 members of the CGPJ panel.

At the Supreme Court, Dívar is most likely to be replaced temporarily by Juan Antonio Xiol, the chief justice of the civil bench.

Now the council must restore its credibility, which was completely thrown out the window"

Dívar, who began his judicial career serving in the municipal courts of Castuera in Badajoz and Orgaz near Toledo, has been under fire since early May when CGPJ panel member José Manuel Gómez Benítez filed a complaint against him with the Attorney General’s Office for spending some 5,658 euros of judiciary money on six questionable trips to Marbella’s Puerto Banús, where he stayed at a luxury hotel and had a number of dinners in the company of one other person.

Prosecutors dropped the investigation after ruling, among other things, that Dívar didn’t personally profit from the trips, which they deemed official. Under the current judiciary code, it was argued that he didn’t have to give any public explanations for the excursions.

By early June, the now outgoing chief justice came under intense public pressure when Benítez determined that Dívar had spent more than 28,000 euros on 32 trips from 2008 to March of this year to Marbella and other destinations such as Bilbao, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia where he stayed at high-end hotels and resorts.

The Dívar case prompted calls for greater transparency in the judiciary’s expenditures. CGPJ member have pledged to rewrite their internal rules to prevent another spending scandal from occurring and making it obligatory for the chief justice to appear before lawmakers at least once a year.

“Now all that we ask is for the council to work to restore its credibility, which was completely thrown out the window,” said Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had demanded Dívar’s resignation.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said it “was time to look forward” and restore the prestige of all judges across the country. But some of his fellow Popular Party (PP) members tried to play down the scandal. PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal said she respected Dívar’s decision.

Madrid Mayor Ana Botella, also of the PP, said Dívar resigned “because he believed it was a convenient and opportune time, and I am not going to say anything else.”

Until this week, Dívar had resisted all calls to resign. He had hoped to preside over the entire bicentennial celebrations this week, in which the justices and other top legal representatives from across Latin America have been invited to take part.

The chief justice received a strong hint that his prestige had been corroded when King Juan Carlos bowed out of the official opening ceremony on Monday by excusing himself while he traveled to Saudi Arabia to pay his condolences to the royal family for the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Dívar did not attend any more ceremonies following Monday’s inauguration.

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