CÓRDOBA, Spain — Carlos Alburquerque isn’t your typical rehab candidate. He’s a 75-year-old grandfather living in Córdoba, a city in southern Spain. He was a town notary before he retired in 2015. He hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol in years.
But his isn’t your typical rehab program: It’s an 11-month boot camp to reform corrupt Spanish officials and “reinsert” them into mainstream society.
“Repairing the damage is what is left for me in this life,” said Mr. Alburquerque, who is serving a four-year prison sentence for stealing around 400,000 euros, nearly a half a million dollars, in his work drawing up contracts and deeds.
Over the course of 32 sessions in an austere conference room in Córdoba’s penitentiary, Mr. Alburquerque will be monitored by a team of psychiatrists. He will sit in a circle with other convicted officials for group therapy sessions with titles like “personal abilities” and “values.” He is, in some ways, the guinea pig of an experiment meant to answer an age-old question: Buried deep in the soul of a swindler like Mr. Alburquerque, might there be an honest man?
raft of bribes for government contracts were discovered logged in a notebook belonging to the ruling party’s treasurer. The scandal helped topple the party from power in 2018. There was the “Palau Case,” in which the president of a Catalan music hall defrauded it of 23 million euros, using the proceeds for home renovations and lavish vacations, among other extravagances.
In the rocky coastal region of Galicia, police once nabbed a ring of corrupt town officials in a sting called “Operation Pokémon.” Why it was named after a Japanese video game was never clear — but some speculated it was because of the large number of officials involved. (There are hundreds of Pokémon characters.)
On a recent afternoon, Ángel Luis Ortiz, a former judge who now runs Spain’s prisons, let out a long sigh as he looked out from his office into downtown Madrid during a conversation about Spain’s struggles with public embezzlement. The boom-bust cycles of Spain’s economy had led it to a long history of fraudsters and betrayals of public trust, he said.
ranks Spain just below France, and above Italy). It was Spain’s will to rehabilitate the offenders that set it apart from the rest, Mr. Ortiz said — an offer which now extends to some 2,044 white-collar criminals in Spanish prisons.
Nine prisons are running programs so far, which began in March. Prisoners don’t get reduced sentences for joining, but officials say participating is looked on favorably when it comes time to request parole.
Who qualifies? It’s a veritable Who’s Who of Spain.
There’s the king’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, the handsome Olympic handball player and former Spanish duke who is serving a fraud sentence of almost six years, and is participating in the program. Francisco Correa, a businessman nabbed in the Gürtel Case is also enrolled. (Though Spaniards know him better for his nickname, “Don Vito,” a reference to “The Godfather” trilogy.)