In Spain, whistleblower Anna Garrido's ten-year ordeal


Spain is in the grip of a massive corruption scandal. A trial began this month in which some of the highest-ranking former lawmakers and officials of the ruling Popular Party (PP) are facing accusations of grand corruption.

Kickbacks, fake invoices and Swiss bank accounts: the juicy details of the so-called Gürtel affair — which allegedly saw PP politicians across the country receive bribes – are well known by Spaniards who have become all too used to corruption in politics.

But this time, Spanish media have billed it as the “trial of the year” as three former party treasurers are among the 37 defendants. The PP itself has been called to the stand for allegedly benefiting from funds obtained illegally by lawmakers.

The price paid by one of those who helped expose this culture of alleged graft and corruption has been high. Anna Garrido is a former civil servant whose personal investigation and whistleblowing played a key role in exposing the scandal now being linked to the PP. Since then she’s lost her job, is still waiting on the monies owed from her successful lawsuit against her employer (a local council in Boadilla del Monte, a leafy suburb of Madrid), and at 50 is now forced to sell homemade jewellery for a living.

Anna Garrido’s story is that of an honest, but tragic, woman whose sense of integrity compelled her to act and report those who were stealing from the Spanish people. The fact that she suffered so immeasurably as a result should make Spaniards sit up and think: Spain does not as yet have a whistleblower’s program.

Whistleblowing is now one of the main, and most effective, tools to combat corruption and ‘Grand Corruption’ [corruption that pervades the highest levels of a national government]. I have expressed the opinion repeatedly at conferences and in writings such as this, that Grand Corruption is one of the most serious forms of injustice facing humanity. It is an odious crime, where the dishonest  get richer, and the poor can face lives full of pain and suffering as a consequence. Somewhat controversially, I have argued that Grand Corruption is a crime against humanity under Article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Convention establishing the International Criminal Court.

This isn’t about get-rich-quick opportunities: Grand Corruption is the systematic process of stripping the life-blood from a community and effectively turning it into a dishonest career path; for those guilty of this form of theft there can be no mitigating circumstances.

In Anna Garrido’s case, she was so dedicated to her cause that she spotted the anomalies that led her to discover a systemic fraud was taking place — a fraud that undermined her department’s efforts to provide for schooling and other supporting infrastructures. It has taken 10 years from whistleblowing to trial for those responsible to reach the courts. As a specialist in the investigation of international fraud and cross-border asset recovery, I know from experience that fraud and Grand Corruption cases are historically slow-moving or lumbering investigations. But 10 years is a long time even for complex matters such as these.

Most larger states now have whistleblowing programs in place; Spain still does not. As a consequence Anna Garrido has lost her job, suffered clinical depression and is now struggling to make ends meet by running a cottage industry from her home. This lady is a hero. She should be rewarded and snapped up by an employer who recognises integrity when they see it. Really, is this how a champion of the people is treated in 21st century Spain?

To rub salt into the already gaping wounds, Ms Garrido won a miserly €95,000 ($105,000) in damages, but she hasn’t seen a penny due to the council appealing the award. In addition, she is being accused of keeping public documents at her home, and has this ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over her head.

The original investigative judge, Judge Garzon, was suddenly suspended in 2010 for 11 years, on the basis that he abused his authority by ordering that telephone conversations between imprisoned suspects and their lawyers be taped. These instructions were based on his suspicion that they were conspiring to destroy evidence.

I’m not an expert in Spanish due-process, so the judge may well have overstepped his mark. But this only adds to the plot for those of us watching developments from afar. This story has gotten Hollywood blockbuster written all over it. With allegations of Swiss bank accounts stuffed with tens of millions of Euros, poor Anna’s whistleblowing plight and the potential damage done to a major political party, it is genuinely gripping.

In its treatment of Anna Garrido, though, Spain must hang its head in shame. Without delay it should set up a whistleblowing programme and be sure it is seen as serious in its commitment to attack corruption at both root and branch.


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