Spain’s best-known judge, who achieved international fame for his human rights investigations, has been found guilty of illegal practice.
The punishment by the country’s Supreme Court effectively ends Baltasar Garzón’s career. He has been barred from practising for 11 years, and banned from appealing.
The charges against him have divided Spanish society. The government – many of whose supporters on the right loathe the judge – said it was staying neutral.
“The only assessment to make is that of the functioning of the institutions, compliance with the rule of law and the most absolute respect for the decisions taken by the judges, in this case the Supreme Court,” said the Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon.
Judge Garzón has been found guilty of illegally authorising secret recordings of conversations between prisoners accused of corruption, and their lawyers. Under Spanish law the only wiretaps that are expressly allowed are in terrorism cases. In other areas the law is less clear.
In a separate case he is also being tried for investigating the murders of the Franco regime, allegedly breaking a 1970s amnesty.
For Garzón’s supporters, his prosecution is politically-motivated; justice ‘upside-down’, as one banner read at a recent demonstration.
But his opponents are having none of it.
“We can’t say that because a person has done so many things for humanity, he can’t be prosecuted if he commits a crime. The sad part of it is that, although he has so many medals because of his fight against human rights violations, he has violated the human right to private communications and free defence,” said Ignacio Peláez Marqués, the lawyer of Garzon’s accusers, last month.
In a three-decade career, Garzón investigated Basque terrorists – and the Socialist government that organised death squads to kill them in the 1980s.
His pursuit of Chile’s General Pinochet inspired victims of other Latin American dictatorships.
But at home his investigations and high-profile style polarised opinion, reviving divisions from the Franco era – and causing envy and hostility among fellow judges.