ERE SCANDAL

Andalusian leaders drawn into inquiry into layoff scam

Judge believes there is evidence that government officials received kickbacks

A judge investigating alleged fraud and the payment of kickbacks stemming from the management of a public unemployment fund in Andalusia has now turned her focus on top regional officials who may have received illegal payoffs, a court ruling shows.

Seville Judge Mercedes Alaya has determined in her preliminary investigation that the private consulting firm Vitalia, a Eurobank subsidiary hired to manage the government's layoff fund, made illegal payments to labor leaders and the former director general of the labor office, Javier Guerrero.

But Alaya believes that Vitalia also bribed top officials in the Socialist government of José Antonio Griñán. "The firm Vitalia had the sufficient means to presumably corrupt officials of the regional government on a continuous basis," she wrote in a ruling.

On Saturday, the judge ordered Eduardo Pascual and María Vaqué to be held in preventive custody on charges of bribery, embezzlement and illicit association. Last week she also ordered Guerrero to be held.

The Popular Party has demanded that Griñán appear before Congress. The Socialist premier said he would "be delighted" if a special commission were set up to also investigate the PP's illegal financing allegations.