A court in southern Spain has found a group of former senior leaders of members of the Andalucía affiliate of Spain’s Socialist party (PSOE) guilty in a corruption case involving illicit payouts of regional government funds estimated at 680 million euros to failing businesses under cover of a worker-severance program in operation from 2001-2009, during two successive regional Socialist administrations.
After a decade of deliberations, the criminal court in Andalucía handed down its verdict Tuesday in the principal trial of what had widely become known as the ERE case, for the Spanish acronym for Expediente de Regulación de Empleo, a procedure whereby a company facing potential bankruptcy is allowed to sack workers and receive public funding to underwrite severance payouts.
Government prosecutors charged the defendants in the ERE case with illicitly paying hundreds of millions of euros in public funds to companies year-after-year in Andalucía as part of a fraudulent scheme that avoided oversight by the regional internal audit office.
More than 500 individuals had been investigated as part of the massive ERE case for more than nine years in a case involving seven different investigating judges. The scope of the ERE scandal was so vast that the judges broke the case into 146 separate investigations. Tuesday’s court verdict is just the first to be issued by judges investigating the ERE corruption charges.
The highest-ranking former officials sentenced Tuesday regional ex-president José Antonio Griñán, who the court found guilty of perjury and misuse of public funds, sentencing him to six years in prison and additionally barring him from holding public office for a period of 15 years.
Former Andalucía president Manuel Chaves was found guilty of perjury while giving testimony in the trial and has been barred by the court holding public office for a period of nine years.
Former regional Economy Minister Magdalena Álvarez, once a vice-President of the European Investment Bank, was likewise found guilty of perjury and is barred from holding public office for a period of nine years. Another former Andalucía minister, Gaspar Zarrías, also was convicted of perjury and has been barred from office for nine years.
Five other former lower-ranking officials of the two Andalucía administrations also received prison sentences from six to seven years for their roles in the ERE case.
The convictions and sentencing prompted political opponents to criticize the Socialist party of acting President Pedro Sánchez, but PSOE spokesman José Luis Ábalos attempted to minimize the political fallout from the case, saying those convicted were no longer party members and their actions more than a decade ago did not reflect the current reality within the party vis a vis corruption and transparency.
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