Long prison terms as judges rule on regional government corruption

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A court in Seville has delivered its verdicts in the first part of the so-called ‘ERE’ mega-corruption case, involving 21 former Andalusian politicians and top regional government officials, including two former regional presidents.

All those accused worked at the Junta de Andalucía from 2001 to 2009, when it was run by the PSOE Socialist party, and almost 680 million euros of mismanaged public money was given out to ailing companies in out-of-control unemployment subsidies. These sometimes went to supporters of the PSOE apparently as political favours.

Of the 21 on trial in this highest profile part of the very complex ERE case, only two had the accusations against them dismissed by the panel of three judges. The remaining 19 had sentences awarded for offences ranging from misappropriation of public funds to corruption in public office. In the court’s damning verdict, finally delivered on Tuesday this week after the trial ended almost a year ago, those closest to the heart of the scandal have received long prison sentences.

Former president Manuel Chaves.

Former president Manuel Chaves. / EP

Two regional presidents

Two former presidents of the regional government were among the accused who arrived in court to hear the decision on their futures. José Antonio Griñán, president from 2009 to 2013, was handed a six-year jail sentence and banned from public office for 15 years. Before becoming president, he had been regional minister for Finance, one of the departments at the heart of the illegal funding operation. His predecessor as president, Manuel Chaves, a PSOE party grandee, was banned from public office for nine years, escaping a jail sentence.

The ERE trial, named after the Spanish abbreviation for a round of compulsory redundancies when a firm has financial difficulties, centres principally on the uncontrolled public subsidies to companies to dismiss staff, laced with corruption. The trial explained that Junta officials paid out grants randomly, avoiding any form of scrutiny, and that warnings from top civil servants were repeatedly ignored in the arrangement that was repeated year after year. In some cases, firms were given money to pay redundancy to fictitious employees.

Magdalena Álvarez.

Magdalena Álvarez. / EFE

Severest sentences

The severest prison terms went to those heading departments managing the money. Former director general of Work and Social Security at the Junta, Francisco Javier Guerrero, received seven years, 11 months while Antonio Fernández, ex-regional minister for Employment got the same. Both men were banned from public office for 19 and a half years.

Among those avoiding prison but receiving a public office ban for “prevaricación” (knowingly making corrupt or unfair decisions in public office) was Magdalena Álvarez, a former regional and national minister for the PSOE.

Current regional president, Juanma Moreno, who heads a coalition of the Partido Popular (PP) and Ciudadanos since last year, said he felt ashamed. “Fortunately this land is now nothing like it was when these events took place. We’re in different times now, where the way of doing things, priorities and people are different.”

Francisco Javier Guerrero

Francisco Javier Guerrero / EFE

No comment from Sánchez

Pressed to make a comment on what had happened regionally in his PSOE, the acting prime minister and leader, Pedro Sánchez, did not comment this week. Party spokesperson, José Luis Ábalos, responding to calls from opposition parties for Sánchez to resign, said, “It doesn’t involve the current [acting] government or the current leadership of the PSOE.”

The Seville sentences are expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, prosecutors have asked for the four with the longest sentences to have their bail cancelled and to enter prison immediately.

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