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Under the table

Spain isn't one of those places where you need to add a folded banknote to oil the wheels of each and every transaction. It's an orderly, organised and well administered European country. That doesn't mean to say that there are not plenty of dodgy deals producing lots of dodgy money.

There must be someone out there whose house deeds show what they actually paid for their house but there won't be many. The usual routine is that the buyer and seller agree both a price and what percentage of that price will show up on the deeds and transaction documents. The rest is handed over in cash. This is usually done in a back room of the notary's office. The notary turns a blind eye.

Spain is an expensive place to contract employees because the "national insurance" is so high. One way around that is for employers to pay some of the contract as cash in hand so they are able to show a lower salary on the official contract. That way the employee gets the protections like health care but both the employee and employer save on the money they pay to the Government in taxes.

When the euro replaced the peseta the Spanish went on a spending spree. All that dodgy money under the bed had to be spent quickly. There are still 1,700,000,000 euros worth of pesetas unaccounted for.

There have been tens of big corruption cases whilst we've been here. Usually politicians take money in return for awarding lucrative contracts. There are hundreds of scams and tricks though and if you wanted a full list you'd have to talk to someone who knows much more about it than me. Tony Blair's solicitors for instance probably have expert knowledge of illegal and underhand financial dealings.

I've been very surprised by the Spanish tolerance of corruption. Alright, there was the 15th of May Movement and it was big news for a while but for most people it was a phenomenon that somebody else was involved in. Spanish people moaned too about the number of official cars or politicians expenses as they sat in a bar or chatted over lunch but, for most, it didn't arouse a lot of passion. My personal theory as to why Spaniards are so usurprised by corruption is that low level fraud, dodgy deals, tax evasion and string pulling are so common in everyday life that it causes no real surprise that politicians and business bosses do it on a bigger scale.

A prominent Valencian politician was implicated in a contract awarding scam. A bit like going after Al Capone for tax evasion the only concrete proof the Spanish prosecutors could find against this politician centred around some hand tailored suits which appeared to have been bought for him by unscrupulous businessmen. The politician went to court and got away scot free. I was outraged by the whole sham as the old boy network went to work to save one of their own. I was apalled when the same old boy network managed to get a campaigning judge suspended. I was apalled and amazed when a different top judge defended his jaunts down to the coast at the tax payers expense and when his replacement complained that he could no longer travel first class on the train and had to mix with the hoi poloi. When I talked to Spanish people about these cases they weren't very interested.

That tolerance seems to have evaporated now though. The ex treasurer of the ruling PP (Conservative Party) is tied up in the same case as the man with the suits. That case hasn't progressed much in a couple of years so far as I know but the other day it was discovered that this ex treasurer had 22,000,000€ in Swiss bank accounts. It also turns out he's laundered around 10 million of it back into Spain because of a tax amnesty engineered by some of his old chums in the current Government. Then a national newspaper published extracts from what it says are the ex treasurer's handwritten accounts. The accounts show lots of brown envelope payments to prominent politicians including the current President. Whether the accounts are real or not is still a moot point.

What I do know though is that this is now a topic of conversation everywhere. Ordinary Spaniards, ground down by the terrible state of the economy, are angry, angry, angry.


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