37 suspects held in Spain on corruption charges


A SERIES of high-profile arrests of corruption suspects linked to Spain’s opposition party has led to bitter accusations of political bias against one of the country’s best-known judges.

Investigating judge Baltasar Garzon this week ordered the detention of 37 suspects, some with close links to the main opposition Popular Party (PP).

The detainees – three of whom have been charged, another released on bail, with the remainder still being questioned – are suspected of involvement in bribery, influence-peddling, money laundering and tax fraud.

They are alleged to have taken money and accepted favours, including expensive overseas trips, in exchange for contracts for public works and organising events in PP-governed towns in the Madrid, Valencia and Galician regions.

Among those named are the mayor and former mayor of two prosperous Madrid suburbs.

A wealthy Madrid businessman, Francisco Correa, is suspected of masterminding the corruption. According to leaks from Judge Garzon’s office, Mr Correa and his associates, Pablo Crespo and Antoine Sanchez, are alleged to have amassed fortunes over the past decade through a complex network of companies, many of them in overseas tax havens, from where they “handed out gifts and bribes to officials and authorities”.

One suspects is a close friend and associate of Alejandro Agag, the son-in-law of former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The gang is alleged to have laundered millions through investments in countries such as China, Colombia, Senegal and the US.

Mr Garzon has been investigating this gang since being tipped off by an unnamed PP official in 2007. He is believed to have brought forward the arrests to last weekend after receiving information that the suspects were planning to flee.

Police are searching for a suitcase, containing files, which was removed from a bank security box last week. However, they found several computer pen-drives containing information which could incriminate certain PP officials.

PP leader Mariano Rajoy has alleged that although the judge is not a socialist he is conducting this investigation out of personal animosity towards the PP. Party officials say Mr Garzon acted incorrectly last weekend when he and justice minister Mariano Fernandez Bermejo were both guests at a private shooting party and have called for his removal from the case.

The allegations come at an embarrassing time for the PP. A feud between Madrid’s regional president, Esperanza Aguirre, and the city’s mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, has reached boiling point. Members of Mrs Aguirre’s office have been spying and tapping the phones of the mayor’s supporters. An inquiry into this is under way.