(Repeats Tuesday story with no changes)
By Fiona Ortiz
MADRID Jan 7 Eight months ago Spanish examining
magistrate Elpidio Jose Silva was investigating a sensational
corruption case that briefly landed politically connected former
bank boss Miguel Blesa in jail.
Now Silva, whose job combines the roles of prosecutor and
judge, is organising his own criminal defence after Blesa,
president of savings bank Caja Madrid from 1996 to 2009,
complained he was being persecuted.
The judge's predicament stems from a quirk that allows the
accused in Spain to lodge complaints against judges, one of many
factors that have slowed down a string of high-profile fraud
cases, damaging confidence in the justice system and raising
concerns about political influence, surveys show.
Silva, who denies any wrongdoing, has been removed from the
case and could face trial for alleged misconduct in his probe
into possible crimes at Caja Madrid before it became part of
Bankia, which later required Spain's biggest-ever bank bailout.
Blesa's lawyers declined to comment for this story but in
court filings have denied Silva's charges of misappropriation of
funds and falsifying a document in a 2008 takeover.
Silva continues to work on other cases and is writing a
book. He says he is calling it "Spain: no country for judges."
Public perception of fraud in Spain is among the highest in
Europe, and more than 90 percent in an independent Metroscopia
poll said they were frustrated by the time it took to
investigate, and they overwhelmingly blamed complaints by the
"Because of the delays, people get the impression there is
little interest in investigating, or that there's some sort of
collusion between the government and judges. The slow process
gives a sensation of low standards," said Jose Juan Toharia,
president of Metroscopia.
Spain also has proportionally fewer judges than Germany,
France, Italy or Portugal, and many get rotated off a case part
way through, all of which adds to delays.
Silva has launched a media campaign claiming the accusations
against him are politically motivated and have a chilling effect
on corruption investigations.
"The complaint against me is abusive and political. They
should have thrown it out by now," the shaven-headed Silva told
Reuters in his Madrid apartment, as he fielded calls from
organisers of signature drives in his support.
Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge internationally known for
his pursuit of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, also fought
graft in Spain and ran into trouble. He was suspended as a judge
in 2010 for illegal wiretapping of suspects in a corruption
case, one of several complaints against him.
Garzon, now a global human rights consultant, claims he was
politically persecuted for trying to investigate crimes during
the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
After Franco the justice system was redesigned to safeguard
the rights of the accused, but unfounded complaints against
judges have led to long delays in several cases, including eight
years to convict corrupt politicians and land developers in
Marbella and 10 years to bring to trial People's Party
politician Carlos Fabra for tax fraud. Fabra was sentenced to
four years but is out on appeal.
Even Spain's royal family is caught up in a long-running
fraud investigation that has still not gone to trial. It is
three years since a judge opened an investigation into Inaki
Urdangarin, husband of King Juan Carlos's younger daughter
Princess Cristina, for forgery and embezzlement through his
charitable foundation. The judge on Tuesday ruled the princess
should also face charges.
The royals, who deny any wrongdoing, have not raised any
complaints to slow the process, but the judge and the
anti-corruption prosecutor have been at odds on how to proceed.
Spain's political elite has also been rocked by charges that
Luis Barcenas, a former treasurer of the ruling People's Party,
stashed up to 48 million euros in Swiss banks and ran a party
slush fund fed by cash from construction magnates.
Three years into the investigation, he is in prison charged
with money laundering and other crimes, but a trial could still
be years away. He denies doing anything illegal.
While few would want a return to the limited rights
defendants had in the Franco era, and a handful of cases of
improper conduct have been found against judges, the snail's
pace of accountability has damaged faith in public institutions,
Opinion polls also consistently show that smaller political
parties could benefit at the next election in Spain.
Silva's probe into Caja Madrid was always going to be
sensitive, since like many Spanish savings banks it was closely
tied to a political party, and Blesa was a friend of former PP
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Caja Madrid ran into trouble after a property bubble burst
in 2008. It was re-christened Bankia after merging in 2010 with
six other savings banks, but with billions in bad loans to
property developers, it soon needed a 22.5 billion euro bailout.
The bank's rescue, its disastrous 2011 public share launch,
and complex debt instruments disguised as savings deposits have
all triggered a number of criminal investigations.
Silva was looking into whether Blesa flouted rules on risk
management when Caja Madrid bought City National Bank of Florida
in 2008. He ruled in June there was evidence of improper
management, misappropriation of funds and falsifying a public
document and had Blesa taken into custody.
Blesa was released after posting bail, and his lawyers then
complained Silva had overstepped his authority. Madrid's
prosecutor opened an investigation into the judge on accusations
of false arrest and official misconduct.
Silva's replacement on the case issued a summons on Tuesday
for Blesa to appear later this month to answer further questions
on the Florida deal to determine whether it damaged Caja Madrid.
Blesa's lawyers have not yet responded.
In the meantime Silva is gathering signatures to show he has
"If they don't convict me, it will be because citizens stood
up to put a stop to it."
(Editing by Will Waterman)