CORRUPTION

Alleged Gürtel ringleader Correa walks out of jail

Head of kickbacks-for-contracts scheme pays bail of 200,000 euros Suspect has spent more than three years in prison

More than three years after he was taken into preventive custody after being arrested on a host of corruption and money-laundering charges, Francisco Correa, the alleged mastermind of the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scheme, walked out of jail on Monday evening after paying bail of 200,000 euros.

Lawyers were able to access the funds after the High Court unfroze an account in the name of the defendant’s 91-year-old mother, Concepción Sánchez.

The alleged leader of what prosecutors have described as the biggest corruption scheme in the history of Spanish democracy had been held in the Soto del Real prison, located outside Madrid, since his arrest in February 2009.

As part of his release conditions, Correa will have to report to court every day until his trial, and cannot leave the country. Prosecutors had opposed releasing him because they believe he is a flight risk.

According to the authorities, Correa led a team of corrupt businessmen who paid hefty kickbacks to Popular Party (PP) politicians in exchange for public contracts with regional governments in Valencia, Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha.

The wide-ranging inquiry, launched by the now-disbarred Judge Baltasar Garzón, has spawned other investigations into illegal campaign financing allegations targeting members of the PP in Valencia. The most notable Gürtel-connected case was the recent trial of former Valencia premier Francisco Camps, who was acquitted on bribery charges for receiving gifts and dress suits from a member of Correa’s network.

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

On June 1, High Court Judge Pablo Ruz agreed to unblock accounts and insurance policies held by Correa’s mother after prosecutors assured him that the money deposited hadn’t come from any illegal activities.

Last month, the High Court agreed to lower Correa’s bail from 600,000 euros to 200,000 euros. The defendant has had his bail lowered on three occasions but was unable to post any money because, according to his lawyers, he didn’t have sufficient funds.

According to the court ruling, the judge has decided to allow Correa to post bail because, given the complexity of the case, no trial date has yet been scheduled. Among the charges he is facing are bribery, influence peddling, tax fraud, illicit association and falsifying documents.

His alleged number two in the scheme, Pablo Crespo, was released last year from the Soto del Real prison after posting bail.

Correa is alleged to have been at the height of his illicit activities during the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar. He is a personal friend of Aznar’s son-in-law, Alejandro Agag, and was a guest at his wedding.

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