Spain's Judge Baltasar Garzon convicted for wiretapping

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon attending the first day of his trial on charges for abuse of power over alleged illegal wiretapping  (17 Jan 2012) Baltasar Garzon's case has polarised public opinion

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Spain's Supreme Court has found the country's best-known judge, Baltasar Garzon, guilty of authorising illegal recordings of lawyers' conversations.

He has been banned from the legal profession for 11 years. The court said he could not appeal against the ruling.

Mr Garzon is best known for helping to secure the arrest of the former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet in London.

He also faces two other charges, including exceeding his authority by investigating Franco-era crimes.

Correspondents say the ruling by the Supreme Court effectively ends Mr Garzon's career as a judge.

Mr Garzon's supporters say the cases against him are politically motivated and have been taking part in demonstrations outside the court during the trial.

'Loss of honours'

Analysis

This is not the case against Baltasar Garzon which has attracted most of the publicity in Spain. The verdict in his second trial, which looked at his attempts to investigate alleged crimes carried out under the former dictatorship of Francisco Franco will be more controversial and will have wider implications for the country, whatever the result.

However many people, especially Judge Garzon's supporters, see the two trials as one. They perceive these two trials, and a third which is still pending, to be a "vendetta" by the political right, against a judge who is regarded as a champion of human rights and justice by the Spanish left.

As much as he is loved by some, in particular the relatives of people who went missing under Franco's regime, Judge Garzon is hated by others who feel he is a politically motivated judge who seeks controversy and the media limelight.

Whereas most international commentators are dismayed that the man who attempted to put the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, on trial has now been tried himself, in Spain the issue divides opinion and evokes strong feelings on both the right and left of Spanish society.

The conviction relates to the wire-tapping of conversations between prisoners and their lawyers ordered by Mr Garzon in 2009.

The detainees are accused of paying off politicians in return for government contracts.

Under Spanish law, wiretaps are only expressly permitted for terrorism laws and the legality if its use for other cases is more vague.

The written judgement imposes "the definitive loss of the duty and the honours that he bears" as a judge of Spain's National Court, and was passed unanimously by the seven Supreme Court judges.

It prohibits him from "obtaining during the duration of the sentence any employment or duty with judicial or governing functions within the judiciary".

"We shall carry on fighting, carry on appealing. We have a long road ahead, but I believe both he and I are more than strong enough," Mr Garzon's lawyer Javier Baena said after the sentence, according to Reuters.

The judge's decision in 2008 to investigate the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during the Franco era, including ordering the excavation of mass graves, provoked fierce criticism and anger.

The probe allegedly violates an amnesty on crimes committed during General Franco's rule.

Mr Garzon, however, argued that no amnesty can cover crimes against humanity.

That trial ended on Wednesday but the verdict is likely to take weeks.

The 56-year-old also faces a third charge, of allegedly dropping an investigation into the head of Spain's biggest bank, Santander, after receiving payments for a course sponsored by the bank. No date has been set for that trial.

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