Spain judge orders trial of 40 officials over graft


A Spanish judge has ordered the trial of 40 individuals, including former mayors and businessmen affiliated to the ruling Popular Party (PP), on charges of involvement in a kickback scheme and alleged corruption crimes.

On Thursday, Spanish High Court Judge Pablo Ruz ordered three former PP treasurers, namely Luis Barcenas, Alvaro Lapuerta and Angel Sanchis, as well as former Health Minister Ana Mato to stand trial.

Mato stepped down last November, saying at the time that she had no knowledge of the kickback scheme.

The judge also imposed court bonds worth a total of EUR 449 million (USD 500 million) on 36 of the 40 suspects.

Those charged in the so-called Gurtel graft case are said to have taken bribes, including luxury gifts and hotel stays, in return for public contracts. They are also accused of influence-trafficking and embezzling public funds.

Barcenas (pictured above) faces the highest court bond of EUR 88 million (USD 97 million). He purportedly rerouted donations from builders and other business leaders into PP leaders’ accounts.

The scheme mastermind, businessman Francisco Correa, was also asked to post a EUR 60-million (USD 66-million) bail.

The PP itself was asked to lodge a bond of EUR 245,492 (USD 270,802).

Judicial sources said the graft trial of senior ruling party members is not expected to start for another year, and could last six months.

Spain’s ruling party is facing a tough challenge to garner public support ahead of general elections, which are slated for the end of the year as the emerging Podemos Party has considerably improved its ranking in the opinion polls over the past months. The far-left party has vowed to stage a massive fight against state corruption and revoke government policies aimed at reducing public spending and squeezing salaries and pensions.

Podemos’ base of support was further boosted in January, when its ally in Greece, Syriza, won the general elections there.

Many blame Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured above) for the surge in the popularity of far-left parties, saying that under his rule, the unemployment rate has jumped, workers have increasingly been hired based on low-pay short-term contracts and salaries have significantly dropped.

Spain experienced a 1.4-percent economic growth last year, with many attributing it to higher rates of private consumption and a rise in investment.

Spain is the fourth-largest economy in the eurozone. The government predicts that growth for 2015 would rise to 2.4 percent from its previous estimate of two percent. However, the country’s unemployment rate in 2014 stood at 23.7 percent, the second highest in the eurozone after Greece.

Despite a relative fall in the jobless rate, economists predict that Spain could not slash it below 20 percent until at least 2020.

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