Fiscal crimes officer backs up Garzón in wiretap misconduct trial

Police agent refutes claims that crusading judge ordered surveillance to listen in to defense plans

One of the lawyers who filed charges against High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón for ordering jailhouse surveillance recordings of conversations with his client denied on Wednesday that he was helping the defendants in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-public contracts scheme launder money.

Nevertheless, a police officer from the economic and fiscal crimes division (UDEF), who took part in the surveillance, later refuted the testimony given by lawyer Ignacio Peláez.

Peláez, who was once a judge and is now a defense lawyer, said that the talks held at Madrid's Soto del Real jail with alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa and his principal accomplice Pablo Crespo "were to prepare the defense and not to launder money."

More information
Historic trial against Garzón begins
Early verdict expected in Judge Garzón wiretap trial

Peláez, one of the lawyers who filed the phone tapping complaint against Garzón, took the stand as a witness on the second day of Garzón's trial before the Supreme Court. The internationally renowned judge faces several counts of overstepping his judicial duties and violating the Constitution by ordering the phone conversations recorded. If found guilty, he could be barred from the bench for up to 17 years.

On Tuesday, Garzón explained to the court that he authorized the phone taps because some of the lawyers in Correa's first defense team where helping him launder the money that the Gürtel business network illegally received through fat public contracts. He revealed that the jailed defendants and their lawyers also discussed ways as to how they could keep cash stashed away in secret accounts from being repatriated to Spain.

Because of the nature of the complaint against Garzón, the Supreme Court allowed the judge's lawyer Francisco Baena to put Peláez on the stand.

"Tell me what valuable information of those conversations did [Garzón] use illegally?" asked Baena.

"What worries me is that I don't have that information," Peláez responded.

The Gürtel lawyers insist that Garzón taped the talks for the sole purpose of finding out what their defense strategy was. When asked about this on Tuesday by his accusers, an indignant Garzón challenged the lawyers to come up with the information he had gleaned from those conversations to use against them after the suspects were arrested.

But a UDEF police officer, who listened in on the conversations, testified on Wednesday that he heard the defendants and their lawyers speak about hiding money.

"During the telephone interventions, the organization was undertaking strategies directed at protecting its wealth," the officer said, adding that the suspects met "daily" with their lawyers.

After Garzón was taken off the case due to legal technicalities on March 30, 2009, the jailhouse surveillance recordings continued under the Madrid High Court Judge Antonio Pedreira, who assumed jurisdiction in the investigation.

Correa, who has been in jail since his arrest in February 2009, and Crespo are awaiting trial on charges that they came up with a massive scheme to pay at least seven million euros in kickbacks to Popular Party (PP) regional and local government officials in Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia in exchange for juicy public contracts.

In 2010, Swiss investigators found some 24 million euros in hidden accounts linked to Correa.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS