Spain’s Partido Popular (PP) and its disgraced former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, have become a broken mirror that reflects back the dirt of the Spanish deep state: the systematic use of the country’s intelligence services to further a partisan agenda. Its many plots and subplots merely attest, time and again, to an embarrassing political culture that is extremely detrimental to Spain’s captive democracy and to a ruling party, the PP, which remains forever suspect.
The latest episode in a string of scandals involves two top party officials, Catalonia’s Jorge Fernández Díaz, who was Spain’s Interior Minister, and the PP’s then-secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal. It appears that both were involved in the so-called Operation Kitchen to spy on Luis Bárcenas —on orders from top Rajoy administration officials— at least between 2013 and 2015. That is the conclusion of the inquiry led by Manuel García-Castellón, the examining judge who has now disclosed the findings of the proceedings. Fernández Díaz is a PP old-timer who led the party’s Catalan branch for decades and then began a government career in Madrid, all the way to the top of the Ministry of the Interior, an office he had to quit after attaining the dubious honour of being the first high-ranking appointee to ever be formally reprimanded in Parliament, over the so-called Operation Catalonia: in October 2014 Fernández and the then-director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Bureau conspired to launch a smear campaign that involved fabricating evidence to bring pro-independence parties into disrepute.
That abuse of power —using government institutions for partisan purposes against the political parties that led Catalonia’s independence push— was part of Fernández Díaz’s modus operandi at the helm of the Interior Ministry, according to the Prosecution’s accusations which have now been revealed. Prosecutors Ignacio Stampa and Miguel Serrano speak of “a conspiracy within the police force”, a dirty war —waged for the PP’s benefit— that aimed to gather “specific intelligence on the whereabouts of the compromising material on top PP leaders that Luis Bárcenas and his wife had collected”, an operation that, needless to say, was never sanctioned by a court of law. Cospedal was apparently aware of this affair, which would make her complicit in the plot.
At any rate, Fernández Diaz’s indictment is practically a given, whereas it remains to be seen whether the evidence against Cospedal and her husband, Ignacio López del Hierro, provides sufficient grounds to press charges against them.
There is a world of difference between being a public servant and a self-serving use of the state’s powers, between following a political calling and unrestrained sectarian partisanship. This new court case merely puts a new stain on Fernández Díaz’s record. In turn, the poor ethics of Spain’s 1978 democracy are exposed once again through the impunity and opacity with which a certain power-hungry political class has conducted itself for too many decades. Unfortunately, minister Fernández Díaz’s alleged wrongdoing can’t have been too unusual.