This article was originally published on 2017, but we’ve been updating the data every year. On this version, is updated until 31st December 2020.
In February 2017, the Council of Ministers pardoned6 public employees (an ex-councillor and 5 civil servants, among them the auditor) convicted in the 'overtime' scandal at the City Council of Rota. For years and via the payroll, they had been paying a civil servant overtime for work which the municipality should have awarded through contracts. The pardons changed their sentences of absolute disqualification to temporary suspensions, meaning they have been permitted to return to their posts. They are the last of a long list that, since 1996, amounts to 231 pardons for those convicted of corruption offenses.
Despite these 6 being convicted for ongoing prevarication, the Justice Minister, Rafael Catalá , deemed that "this cannot be described as corruption". He isn't the first to make declarations of this type. His predecessor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón , also drew on such sui géneris classifications when he first stated he had not granted any pardons to anyone convicted of corruption, and, after denying this on these very pages, argued that those he had pardoned hadn't used public funds, and therefore, could not be classified as corrupt. The reality is that this too was a lie and some of those pardoned had in fact embezzled public funds, such as those involved in the 'Treball Case'.
So, what constitutes a crime of corruption and what doesn't? Corruption per se is not listed in the Penal Code. Therefore, as yet, there are no clear rules to define its limits.
The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ in Spanish), which has begun to publish data on corruption convictions and prosecutions, has defined these limits, establishing exactly what constitutes a crime of corruption in preparation for publishing the relevant statistics. They thus determine which articles of the Penal Code come under this classification , according to their criteria, one which has nothing to do with that laid out by the current minister or his predecessor.
With a new classification in hand – called METODOLOGÍA in Spanish-, we can determine that the government of Rajoy has granted 16 pardons to people convicted for crimes of corruption. Pedro Sánchez has granted 4, the ones convicted for the referendum in Catalonia. These are the last on a list of 231, granted between 1996 and the present day.
Pardons for corruption offenses granted since 1996
(Last updated: 31/12/2021), under the classification of corruption as defined by the CGPJ.
Aznar ranks top of the list with over half of all pardons
More than half of these pardons for corruption, up to a total of 139 or, to put it another way, a whopping 60%, were granted under the government of José María Aznar (1996-2004). Two of his Justice ministers, Ángel Acebes (with 76) and Margarita Mariscal de Gante (59) rank top of the list of the Justice ministers who signed off on most pardons.
Right behind Aznar, the government of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011) approved 62. Bottom of the list is Rajoy (end of 2011 - present), with 16. The 231 total pardons are rounded out with the 10 granted by Felipe González in 1996, before Aznar came to power (and whose total number has not been taken into account for the purposes of this investigation).
These Presidents were not all in power for the same amount of time however. If we consider the length of their mandates, Aznar granted, on average, almost 18 pardons to convicts of corruption per year; Zapatero, 8; and Rajoy, 2.6. There figures are only an average. Some years were more fruitful than others. As a rule of thumb, the years in which pardons peaked are also those in which more were granted for this type of crime.
2000, the year which registered most pardons regardless of the type of crime, is also the year which recorded the most pardons specifically for corruption cases (70). On 1st December 2012, Acebes signed 1,328 pardons in a single Cabinet session. This long list concealed 67 granted to people convicted of corruption , among them, a group of 6 Civil Guards ( here, here, here, here, here and here) who turned a blind eye to the activities of an organized tobacco smuggling gang in return for payments.
The next year for the highest number of pardons was 1998, with 43. This year saw the government of Aznar use a Royal Decree to reduce the sentences of those convicted in the kidnapping of Segundo Marey, a French citizen who they got mixed up with an ETA leader, in an operation carried out by the GAL (Anti-terrorist Liberation Group). The former Interior Minister, José Barrionuevo; the former Secretary of State, Rafael Vera; the former head of State Security, Julián Sancristóbal; and the Superintendents Francisco Álvarez and Miguel Planchuelo had been convicted of misappropriation of public funds - hence their appearance on this list- as well as kidnapping.
In this case, as in many others, the government of the day's position on the political spectrum is irrelevant. The PP's government approved similar pardons for the officials of its predecessor, Felipe González - a socialist. And the same has occurred the other way around.
Political colors don't exist
Juan Hormaechea, ex-president of Cantabria , was convicted of misappropriation of public assets and pardoned on two sep arate occasions. Following his first conviction, which saw him sentenced to 6 years in prison, he was pardoned in 1995 by the government of Felipe González. The second time was in 2011, at the hand of Zapatero, following the Supreme Court's retrial and ratification of his three-year sentence. The crimes for which he was convicted took place during his first term (1987-1990), to which he was appointed after topping the Alianza Popular's lists for the region of Cantabria.
Among the 16 convicted of corruption that were pardoned by Rajoy's government, we find members of his own party - a mayor and 3 councillors from Valle de Abdalajís (Málaga)-, from the PSOE - a PSOE civil servant in Seville- and from the former CiU - an ex-senior official to Pujol, sentenced in the Treball case. Also pardonned are civil servants such as the man convicted of providing thousands of personal data to the police and labor unions, and who was granted a pardon at Easter, a tradition which is never overlooked.
These 231 pardons granted to those convicted of corruption only make up a small part of the more than 10,000 pardons granted since 1996. However, if we take into account that such crimes produce far fewer convictions than other more common ones (such as offenses against the public health or robberies), then our perspective changes somewhat. Prevarication and misappropriation come third and fifth on the list of crimes registering the most pardons in comparison to convictions, at 1.46% and 0.81% respectively.
In fact, pardons granted for embezzlement (152 pardons) and prevarication (54) are the most common on a list of 231 pardons that results from an analysis undertaken using the classification of corruption formulated by the CGPJ. These are followed by 14 crimes of failure to safeguard documents, 13 crimes of bribery, four crimes of omission of the duty to prosecute crime, and one of fraud by illegal levy.
Regardless of individual points of view - or those of the Justice ministers themselves - about what does or does not constitute corruption, the CGPJ has traced a useful dividing line which serves to underscored the fact that such pardons have been granted regularly and by all governments, and to better understand what can and can't be banned if the proposition currently being debated in Congress is approved – one which would veto pardons for those convicted of corruption. If the line were that drawn by the Justice Minister, very few pardons would be prohibited. With the CGPJ's, things change.
Browse pardons for corruption offenses granted from 1996 to 2021
In the following graph you will find all pardons granted for this category of crime up to 2021.
Note: the total of these different types of crime is 238, not 231. This is because a single pardon may cover convictions which include various crimes.
Miguel Ángel Gavilanes and Javier de Vega have collaborated on data cleansing.