Judge targets 72 suspects in layoff scam

Andalusia officials were warned about fund, audits show

A judge has targeted 72 cases in the layoff scam that has rocked Andalusia's Socialist government in which suspects, including party officials, may have illegally collected money from a public fund set up to help beleaguered companies pay for early retirement and assistance to laid-off workers.

The actual number of cases under court investigation had been in dispute after the regional government identified 146 instances where people may have been receiving money from the fund who were not entitled to it.

Investigating Judge Mercedes Alaya has ordered a complete review of all the Andalusia government's records dating back to 2001. She has also asked to see all the minutes from the regional Cabinet meetings and those of Andalusia's employment, economy, innovation and general audit offices. The judge is looking at the 72 "intruders" ? people who were given early-retirement packages in companies that they never worked for ? and a 647-million-euro fund, which police say was created illegally.

More information
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The key is reportedly contained in three reports prepared since 2005 by the regional government's general audit office, which stated that the procedures taken to set up the fund "absolutely disregarded" the law.

Former employment commissioner Antonio Fernández and the Socialist party secretary in Seville, José Antonio Viera, who signed the agreement for the fund in 2001, are targets in the inquiry.

The opposition Popular Party has accused regional premier José Antonio Griñán of knowing about the general audit office's recommendations and doing nothing to correct the situation. Griñán, who was the economy commissioner at the time of the reports, has denied any knowledge.

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