Bank account and seized documents tie Sortu to ETA, state legal body says

Funds were destined for ETA prisoners; arrested terrorist confesses to two killings

The credibility of the Basque nationalist abertzale left and its renewed attempts under a fresh grouping, Sortu, to enter into political dialogue with the government received a series of blows on Thursday. The Solicitor General's Office was successful in stymieing Sortu's application to be enrolled on the political party register in a Supreme Court action, but the content of the state lawyers' petition was even more damaging to Sortu's leadership.

According to the solicitor general's appeal, formulated with reports from the police and Civil Guard, two of Sortu's members, José Javier Artola Zubillaga and Patxi Angulo Martín, are the holders of a bank account through which funds have been funneled to a support group for ETA prisoners. The finding, presented in the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Joaquín de Fuentes Bardají, "demonstrates juridically that Sortu is a continuation of Batasuna," the political wing of ETA outlawed in 2003.

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The emergence of the bank account, held at Caja Laboral Popular, has also lent weight to the government's attempts to demonstrate a "direct connection" between Sortu and ETA. The final destination of monies deposited into the account, according to the Solicitor General's Office, are "members of ETA in prison."

In a related discovery, Sonia Respaldiza, a member of Sortu's leadership, appears named in documents seized during the arrest of former leader of ETA's military operations, Ibón Fernández Iradi. In the documents, Respaldiza is identified as a "somebody who has had conversations to join ETA." In the solicitor general's statement, it is charged that Respaldiza's links to the terrorist group are not limited to "work in certain structures," but could include "her integration in an armed cell."

The government, which presented its own intervention in the court, concurs with the findings of its legal services that Sortu is a continuation of Batasuna. "The attempt to form a new party is part of a synchronized political strategy of which ETA is the driver and principal actor," the government document read.

Sortu has yet to comment on the arrest on Tuesday of an ETA cell in Vizcaya. The cell, a so-called comando legal, whose members had not previously been arrested, was formed by Lorena López Díez, Iñigo Zapirain Romano, Beatriz Etxeberría Caballero and Daniel Pastor Alonso. In raids by the Civil Guard at four addresses, 200 kilos of explosives and assorted firearms were recovered. Also seized was detailed documentation on possible targets, including members of the judiciary and the Ertzaintza, the Basque police force.

What remains unknown is whether the information was recently collated or pertains to before ETA announced a unilateral ceasefire on January 10. Sources close to the case believe that the cell had been ordered not to mount any attacks while the truce is ongoing.

Romano confessed in the presence of his lawyer to involvement in no fewer than 12 attacks, including the murder of police inspector Eduardo Puelles in 2009 and warrant officer Luis Conde de la Cruz in Santoña in a car bomb attack in September 2008. He also confessed that the cell, which had been active since 2006, was behind an attempted massacre at a Civil Guard barracks in Burgos in 2009.

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