ERE FUND SCANDAL

Andalusia chiefs’ targeting in layoff scam “appealable,” says premier

Socialists concerned by timing of ERE judge’s decision

Andalusia's Socialist premier, José Antonio Griñán, said a judge's decision to target 20 current and former regional officials for allegedly misusing public money meant for struggling businesses is "manifestly appealable" because "it contains absolutely no penal reproaches."

Asked if the examining judge, Mercedes Alaya, might also charge him in the so-called ERE case, the premier declined to answer. "No more questions," he said. So far, former Public Works Minister Magdalena Álvarez is the highest-ranking official to be targeted by an investigation into a long-running fraud involving an Andalusia government fund used to help pay jobless benefits.

Judge Alaya said the former Socialist minister, who also served as economic and finance chief in Andalusia from 1994 to 2004, "laid down the rules" in how money was transferred from the regional government budget to the fund. Up to 136 million euros may have been embezzled.

The party number two said she would "risk her neck" for Álvarez and Griñán

A few Socialists have suggested the existence of a conspiracy theories to explain the "fact" that Ayala's major initiatives seem to come on the back of key events for the Andalusian Socialists, which are now in the midst of express primaries to find a replacement for Griñán to run in the next regional elections. Some observers said the risk of having Griñán probed explains his rush to call primaries to find his substitute by the end of this month. Socialists say it is the other way around, that Ayala targeted 20 officials after news of the primaries broke.

Regional deputy premier Diego Valderas stated his "concern" over what he considers the "scant impartiality" in the judge's decision. Meanwhile, Socialist deputy secretary general, Elena Valenciano, said she would "risk her neck" for Magdalena Álvarez and for Griñán. She added that there was no basis for the indictments, and noted the "Swiss watch-like precision" of the timing between Judge Alaya's decisions and major events for the Andalusian Socialists.

"There were determining judicial decisions during the municipal and regional elections, and in this case, when there was an incipient replacement process at the helm of the government of Andalusia," she said.

Yet Valenciano refrained from using the expression employed by the number-two man in the Andalusian party, Mario Jiménez, who talked about "a witch hunt" against the Socialists. The same expression was used by the Popular Party to attack the investigation into its own corruption case involving its ex-treasurer Luis Bárcenas.

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