Once again, political explanations are severely lacking as the investigation into the so-called ERE scandal progresses, and the key question is being avoided: just how was it that the Andalusian regional government could fail to stop a situation whereby, over a period of 10 years, at least 136 million euros of public funds were siphoned off without any kind of controls?
The case involves public funds that were meant to be used to pay early retirement compensation at Andalusian firms carrying out labor adjustment plans with numerous layoffs, known as EREs. The authorities discovered that a number of the beneficiaries of these payouts were not eligible, while other individuals applied fraudulently, pretending to work at companies that were receiving the funds.
Recent advances in the judicial investigation — which has led to 22 arrests — have revealed yet more worrying information, and have prompted the regional leader in Andalusia, José Antonio Griñán, to make an appearance in parliament. The speed with which he was willing to give explanations in public is laudable, but this was blighted on Wednesday when he failed to offer any new information that would shed light on the role of the regional government in the scandal, and refused to assume any political responsibility.
Griñán is in a risky situation. He occupied the post of regional economy and tax chief when a number of reports were filed by the Government Comptroller's Office, the body responsible for the internal auditing of the regional governments, stating that the employment department was "completely dispensing with the administrative procedures set down by the law" in terms of the financing of the EREs. But the regional premier's line of defense is based on the claim that the comptroller did not officially raise the alarm regarding a plundering of public funds, and he is backing this claim up thanks to statements made by the current treasury chief (who was at the time the deputy treasury chief), Carmen Martínez Aguayo, who has publically admitted that these reports were never delivered to her boss.
The team behind Griñán feels that it has nothing to do with this fraud case, and is often heard complaining about the situation it has inherited from the government of Manuel Chaves, from whom Griñán took over in April 2009. It was under the mandate of his predecessor that this corruption scheme was born — a scheme that is being revealed to be increasingly more serious as the investigation, headed up by Judge Mercedes Alaya, progresses. After two-and-a-half years of inquiries, nearly 70 people have been named as official suspects in a case in which Griñán says he is actively participating. On the political level, however, there is a different attitude. This was revealed when the Socialist Party blocked the regional parliament's investigative commission from pointing to the former employment chiefs José Antonio Viera (a Socialist deputy in Congress) and Antonio Fernández (currently out on bail) as the political culprits behind the scandal.