GÜRTEL CORRUPTION TRIAL

Correa in dock as Gürtel bribery trial heats up

Ricardo Costa, on trial alongside ex-premier Camps, hears taped conversation between himself and Gürtel boss

On the third day of the trial of former Popular Party (PP) regional premier of Valencia, Francisco Camps, and the ex-secretary general of the PP in the region, Ricardo Costa, the ringleader of the Gürtel corruption network made his much-awaited appearance.

But Francisco Correa, who has been in jail since being detained when the Gürtel case broke in February 2009, exercised his right to not make any declarations in court over the suits that the network allegedly gave to Camps for his allegiance in the awarding of public contracts. Correa's lawyer had advised his client to keep his counsel as he could have damaged his interests in other proceedings open against him. Instead, Correa sat in silence while taped phone conversations about the suits between himself and Álvaro Pérez, another of the network's lead men, were played.

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Pablo Crespo, Correa's right-hand man and a former secretary general of the PP in Galicia, also chose not to hold forth in court. The prosecution asked Crespo questions, such as "Did you pay for garments for politicians?" as a tool for the jury to hear and see documents showing payments made by Gürtel to stores]Crespo did speak later in the day, to deny knowing Camps. The first witness to give evidence, Isabel Jordán, the former director of Easy Concept, a company within Correa's network, said that accountant Javier Nombela, who was aware he was soon to be sacked, had handed her a note with the sum of 30,000 euros upon it. When Jordán asked Nombela what the amount pertained to, she told the court thathe replied: "That will be for the suits for that son-of-a-bitch Camps."

Asked if it was commonplace for gifts to be handed out to holders of public office, Jordán replied that it was, adding that Correa would also bestow gifts during the rest of the year for events such as birthdays. Jordán- who has a police bodyguard to protect her after having allegedly received threats since she filed complaints against Correa over his management of Easy Concept - gave evidence without her face being shown on the big screen erected in the court for the trial.

When Correa was in the courtroom later, a tape of a conversation he had with Pérez was played, in which the latter used threatening language toward Jordán. "I can't see any way out," Pérez says during the conversation, which took place a few days before José Tomás, a tailor, was questioned by police.

Earlier in the day, the former secretary general of the Valencia Popular Party, Costa, acknowledged that he met Francisco Correa on two occasions but denied having any type of close friendship with the now-jailed alleged mastermind of the Gürtel network.

Costa also denied receiving any gifts from Correa's point man in Valencia, Pérez, but acknowledged that he had "a cordial friendship" with him.

Prosecutors say that Pérez, the former president of Orange Market, an alleged franchise of the Gürtel network that won fat contracts for organizing special events for the PP and the Valencia government, is said to have showered both Camps and Costa with gifts for their help in winning bids.

"I was only introduced to [Correa] on two occasions: one time in the street and the other time at Álvaro Pérez's wedding because I didn't recognize him," Costa recalled. On Tuesday, Camps also denied knowing Correa. When the alleged ringleader entered court on Wednesday, Camps and Costa shifted their positions to avoid appearing in the same shot as Correa. For his part, the Gürtel linchpin studiously avoided casting his eye toward the defendants.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Concepción Sabadell asked the defendant to listen to a surveillance recording of a conversation between Costa, Correa and the alleged number-two man in the Gürtel scheme, Crespo.

Crespo was with Costa on that day and passed the phone to him so he could talk to Correa. "Within six years, you will be regional premier," Correa tells Costa. "And you in Brazil, asshole, and me in San Juan, in Orihuela and all over the place," the former PP secretary general answers.

"That's the price you pay for power," Correa says.

After listening, Sabadell asked him: "Isn't this the friendly manner with which you speak to someone, with whom you just denied having any type of friendship?"

Costa tried to explain that he was just trying to be "as friendly as possible" in the context of that conversation and nothing else.

The defendant also found himself in another tight spot when other surveillance recordings were played in which Costa speaks with Pérez about caviar, watches and the latest cellphones on the market. Sabadell asked him if these were supposed to be gifts, but Costa denied this.

He explained that he was asking Pérez where to buy good caviar, and he never ended up purchasing the watch and telephone he wanted.

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