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CORRUPT BUSINESS NETWORK

Witness tells of Gürtel payoffs for pope's visit to Valencia

Manager of ghost firms gave 88,000 euros to one of conspiracy's ringleaders

Gürtel suspect Álvaro Pérez.
Gürtel suspect Álvaro Pérez.Fernando Alvarado (EFE)

Ghost companies that were hired by the Valencian government to organize and broadcast the 2006 visit to the city by Pope Benedict XVI paid commissions to the ringleaders of the alleged Gürtel conspiracy, according to testimony presented before the High Court on Monday.

Óscar Fagio, a manager of two of these companies, told Judge Pablo Ruz that he gave 88,000 euros to Pablo Crespo, the number-two man in the corrupt businessmen's network, for contracts to provide sound and images for the event.

Fagio's testimony is the first known statement to be provided in court about the payoffs made to the Gürtel leaders in exchange for contracts to organize and broadcast the pope's visit to Valencia in July 2006.

Crespo and the alleged head of the Gürtel network, Francisco Correa, are awaiting trial on a host of corruption and fraud charges.

The 7.4-million-euro contract for the live broadcast of the pope's Mass was given to the construction company Teconsa. According to prosecutors, the firm had no experience in television transmissions.

Subcontracts were paid by the regional government's Radio Television Valenciana (RTVV) to set up big-screen televisions and sound systems along the pope's route, at a cost of 3.2 million euros, according to a Gürtel accountant's documents, which were confiscated by investigators.

One-man firms

Two of those companies receiving subcontracts were Wild Electronic Design and Apogee Telecommunications. Fagio was Wild Electronic's only manager, and the sole partner in Apogee.

In order to get the contracts, Fagio said that he personally gave 88,000 euros to Crespo in Seville, where his companies were registered.

After he paid off Crespo, Fagio testified that Teconsa gave him 1.05 million euros to set up the large screens - an amount he told the judge that wasn't enough to cover all the costs. He submitted a bill for an additional 1.08 million euros to Teconsa, which was later paid through the public funds that RTVV provided. Still, the total 2.13 million euros was a smaller amount than the entire 7.4 million that Teconsa received.

Prosecutors claim that Pedro García Gimeno, the former station manager at RTVV, fixed the bidding process in favor of Teconsa after he was given money, dress suits and vehicles by Correa and his associates, including Gürtel's point man in Valencia, Álvaro Pérez, who has also been indicted in the massive corruption investigation.

Ruz is weighing up evidence before deciding whether to indict the defendants on further charges, as well as others who have not been accused so far. The charges the judge is reportedly looking at include bribery, money laundering and embezzlement of public money. Anti-corruption prosecutors are also looking to add tax-related charges for all the financial transactions that took place during the pope's visit.

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