It is called the Court of Accounts but it is not a court and it is not subject to the Judiciary either. The highest supervisory body of the State is the one who oversees the accounting of political formations, their foundations and public bodies, which do not go through the magnifying glass of the Tax Agency unless a judge intervenes if there are suspicions of crime. But what is striking is that the entity that monitors what use administrations and parties make of the public money they receive is controlled by the parties themselves. None of the major corruption cases in recent years – Gürtel, Bárcenas, Púnica, ERE de Andalucía, Palau … – have emerged from their audits.
The Court of Auditors must identify their possible positions of trust after a complaint from Civio
Its twelve advisers are elected by Congress and the Senate — six each — by a three-fifths majority among certified accountants, magistrates, lawyers or economists of recognized competence and with more than 15 years of professional practice, as established by law. In practice, it is an institution highly influenced by the two major parties, PP and PSOE, which up to now have always agreed to share positions when each term expires, with a duration of nine years.
The last renovation process took place in July 2012, when Mariano Rajoy ruled with an absolute majority. Then the bipartisanship brought together 296 of the 350 congressional deputies – now there are 209 – and there were no parties like Podemos, Ciudadanos or Vox. Since then, the Court of Auditors has maintained a conservative majority increased by the resignation in January 2018 of the former senator of the PSC Lluís Amet, elected councilor at the proposal of the Socialists. It has not been replaced. At this time, the PP has seven councilors and the PSOE four, one of them agreed with IU. Among them, the ex-minister of the PP Margarita Mariscal de Gante or Manuel Aznar, brother of the former president.
The conservatives also hold the presidency, which in 2018 fell to María José de la Fuente, niece of the former Francoist minister Licinio de la Fuente, appointed councilor by Congress at the proposal of the PP. Her predecessor in office, former UCD deputy Ramón Álvarez de Miranda, is the son of the former president of Congress and Ombudsman. Although the body is renewed every nine years, Álvarez de Miranda has been with the institution for more than thirty, since 1984. He is not the only member who has remained for decades. Ubaldo Nieto, also former president of the entity and whose name was peppered with controversy after appearing as a donor to the PP in Luis Bárcenas’ accounting notes, worked for the organization for 22 years.
In July 2018, the governing committee of the Court of Accounts was also renewed, the one with the most power in the body because it distributes matters among the sections. Since then it has been 100% controlled by the PP. Its three members – the president María José de la Fuente and the presidents of the inspection and prosecution sections, Javier Medina and José Manuel Suárez Robledano, respectively – were elected at the proposal of the conservatives. It is the first time in a democracy that this has happened. This configuration was imposed by the seven councilors of the PP, who with their comfortable majority left the four socialists without margin.
The Court of Auditors, with an annual budget of 63 million euros -According to the latest accounts in force, from 2018-, it offers some of the highest salaries in the Administration. Its president will receive this year 122,168 euros gross. The same amount is allocated to section presidents and councilors. It is 44% more than what the chief executive or vice-presidents of the Government receive and it is only below what the president of the Constitutional Court or the General Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court charges. In addition, an official of the supervisory body charges 30% more salary than an equivalent of his from another administration, hence his positions are highly coveted, as reported The country.
The case of Ana Botella
In addition to the control of public funds, the Court of Accounts is entrusted with an accounting jurisdiction for the prosecution of those who cause impairment in public funds. Within the framework of this competence – which is compatible with the sanctioning power and with the action of the courts in criminal proceedings – the court prosecuted the former mayor of Madrid Ana Botella and seven charges from her Government for selling 1,860 protected public housing to two Blackstone vulture fund companies at a below-market price.
Bottle and the other senior officials were sentenced in the first instance to pay 25.7 million euros in accounting liability for allowing the disposal for 128 million euros, 23 million less than its real value. However, the sentence was revoked months later, in July 2019. The acquittal, by two votes to one, was signed by two councilors proposed by the PP: the aforementioned Mariscal de Gante and Suárez Robledano, who understood that both parties reached a “point of market equilibrium” at a time of falling prices of the house. Felipe García, a counselor proposed by the PSOE, voted against, who maintained that the operation was “harmful” to the municipal patrimony, as the court had wielded at first.
The focus has recently been placed again on this institution after its chief prosecutor, Ángel Torres Morato, – who functionally depends on the State Attorney General’s Office – found indications of allegedly irregular hiring of the Neurona consultancy by Podemos in the last general elections, according to the Ser string. The prosecutor, who has asked to take the case to the ordinary Justice, suspects that a contract of 290,000 euros could be simulated, which could be constitutive of crimes of electoral fraud and falsification in commercial document. It is, in any case, an investigation that is in a very incipient phase.
Suspicions of nepotism
Finger appointments go beyond those made by parties with councilors. The organization experienced its greatest reputational crisis in 2013 when it was revealed that a good part of the workforce is made up of family members from high positions. Of the around 700 workers that make up the workforce, a hundred have family ties to senior officials of the organization and former directors, as revealed The country.
One of the most scandalous cases of nepotism was the one who was its president until 2018, Ramón Álvarez de Miranda, and the current president of the Audit section, Javier Medina Guijarro. At least until 2014, when the Prisa newspaper published this information, a sister-in-law of Ramón Álvarez de Miranda and a nephew were on staff. The wife and two brothers of Medina Guijarro also worked in the institution, who continues to hold the highest responsibility in the Inspection section; as well as a distant relative of your spouse. In 2016, the Supreme Court annulled the attempt to handpick one of his brothers as technical deputy director and ordered the Court of Accounts to pay 9,000 euros in costs.
It is not the only controversy related to the staff that the court has had to face. And it is that the entity that monitors the financing of the parties and if their actions at the head of the institutions are done correctly, it is difficult to be transparent. Last December, the Supreme Court ruled that the court had infringed the right of access to public information of the Civio Citizen Foundation after refusing to identify their possible positions of trust at the request of this group.
Another of the suspicions that have flown over the Court of Auditors is the slowness that has prevailed on some occasions in the audit it has carried out on political organizations. An example of this is what happened in 2013, when the audit of party accounts reached Congress five years late. The possible irregularities that could have been detected in the 2008 accounts, audited five years later, would have prescribed after the PP approved in 2012 a limitation period of four years for irregular financing crimes. In recent years the court has made an effort to end these gigantic delays. For example, the audit reports for the general elections of April 28, 2019 were published at the end of last July. That is, 15 months after the celebration.