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JUDGE GARZÓN ON TRIAL

A coincidence according to plan

The Supreme Court maneuvered to bring Garzón to book for the wiretap case

Gürtel conviction seen as less controversial than Franco-crimes probe

The conviction against investigating judge Baltasar Garzón had been forecast as the most likely result in all the private bets at the Supreme Court, High Court and General Council of the Judiciary. The investigation into allegedly illegal wiretaps ordered by the judge got started in February 2010, the third of three cases brought against Garzón in the Supreme Court.

A year before that, the far-right group Manos Limpias had sued Garzón over his inquiry into Franco-era crimes that the then-High Court judge felt constituted crimes against humanity. This part of Spanish history has never been judicially investigated on the basis of an 1977 amnesty law. Soon afterwards, a third case that had already been dismissed, involving sponsorship by Santander bank of lectures Garzón gave at NYU, was reopened.

The Franco-crimes case against him, pursued passionately by Judge Luciano Varela, was necessary to temporarily suspend Garzón from his duties, and the New York case extended the suspicion that he improperly accepted money from a source he later cleared of tax fraud allegations. But the important case against Garzón was the wiretap order.

Back in October 2010, legal sources considered that this was the most likely of the three cases to produce a conviction against a judge who was as famous as he was controversial, especially in Spain, where he went after everyone from ETA terrorists to drug traffickers and corrupt politicians. Abroad, Garzón is considered a champion of human rights for his international warrant against Chile’s General Pinochet in 1998 and trial of former members of Argentina’s dictatorship.

What better, then, than to convict him for violating basic rights, even if they are the rights of jailed corruption suspects? Also, the judge in this case, Alberto Jorge Barreiro, subtly moved the focus of the trial from the suspects to their innocent lawyers, whose right to privacy and professional secrecy had been breached.

So while the wiretap case was moving along at fast-track speed, the other two trials against Garzón were traveling in freight trains. The prison conversations Garzón had tapped included, among other things, the following conversation between a Gürtel suspect and his lawyer:

Lawyer. The good news I was going to tell you is that the Boadilla business society [a deal allegedly obtained through favors from a PP mayor] is not blocked.

Pablo Crespo. No.

Lawyer. I don’t know how much at the moment. Ramón wasn’t sure but he thought...

Pablo Crespo. Yes, yes, all right...

Lawyer. Then, if this is so and we can dispose of it, obviously unless you give me other instructions...

Pablo Crespo. No, no.

Lawyer. First I’ll look after your families. I’m going to make a five-month estimation based on the figures you gave me the other day; that will be the first thing, instead of month to month, or else we risk getting this blocked.

Pablo Crespo. You handle this in some way.

So there were indeed indications for the lawyer to handle the funds that had not yet been blocked. Also, it turns out that in none of the three Supreme Court cases against Garzón was there any accusation from the prosecutor, who felt Garzón committed no crime.

The entire wiretap case is based on a legal interpretation of article 51.2 of the General Penitentiary Law that allows prisoner communications to be monitored “by order of the judicial authority in cases of terrorism.” Garzón accepted a police request to do so, as well as requests by both anti-corruption attorneys, and the decision was backed by Judge Antonio Pedreira of the Madrid regional High Court. None of these individuals was so much as called in to testify in the case against Garzón.

In other cases, such as the trial over the murder of the young Marta del Castillo, judges authorized the monitoring of prison conversations by her alleged killers with the goal of trying to locate her body; in the case of the lawyer Pablo Vioque, his lawyer’s conversations were monitored to prevent the assassination of then chief drug czar Javier Zaragoza, whom the prisoner aimed to kill through a hired thug. Neither case had anything to do with terrorism, but neither judge was upbraided for their decision to order wiretaps.

Meanwhile, Garzón has been disbarred from the judiciary for the same reason. But because the judges who sit on the Supreme Court do not pervert the court of justice, it is surely a coincidence. A coincidence according to plan, you might think.