Spanish anti-graft crusader makes mark in royals case

Thu Feb 6, 2014 6:30am EST
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By Fiona Ortiz

MADRID (Reuters) - When Spain's Princess Cristina appears before a judge on Saturday for questioning on corruption charges, it will be the biggest victory yet for anti-graft crusader Miguel Bernad, a lawyer who has pursued bankers, politicians and now the royal family.

Operating out of a one-room office in Madrid, Bernad's Clean Hands group - a loose association of lawyers - has waged a very personal war against corruption, forcing judges to investigate politically sensitive cases that may have otherwise languished.

A former civil servant in Madrid's city hall - and one-time member of a far-right political party - Bernad uses a unique Spanish legal instrument known as the "people's accusation" to bring criminal complaints against third parties.

Judges can choose whether or not to act on such complaints, and not every accusation by Clean Hands, "Manos Limpias" in Spanish, has led to a judicial investigation.

But many have, and the group has become key to prosecuting high-level corruption cases involving politicians, labor unions and Spain's biggest failed lenders, where public prosecutors have moved slowly or not brought charges.

By forcing such cases forward, Bernad has spurred Spain's fight against corruption, which often gets bogged down in the country's justice system.

As their country struggles to emerge from a deep economic malaise, opinion polls show graft is a top concern for Spaniards. Corrupt land development deals and kickback schemes helped to inflate property prices and public spending, eventually plunging Spain into a deep crisis.

Clean Hands' allegations against Princess Cristina, King Juan Carlos's younger daughter, have notably led to the first ever prosecution of a member of the Spanish royal family.   Continued...

Spain's Infanta Cristina is seen during an official function of Spanish Civil guard in Seville October 7, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo