ERE Case

Andalusia layoff fund case now biggest corruption probe following 23 arrests

Judge targets 116 over illicit payouts from Andalusian regional government

The massive investigation into alleged fraud committed within the Andalusia regional government's labor department has now become the largest public corruption case in Spain on record with 116 people having been provisionally charged or named as official targets in the probe.

The so-called "ERE case" is now bigger than the Malaya property and kickbacks inquiry that rocked Marbella with the arrests of about 100 politicians, local businessmen and other personalities when it broke in 2006.

Since 2011, Seville Judge Mercedes Ayala has been looking into allegations that scores of people received illicit payouts from a fund that was set up by the Socialist government in 2001 to help firms make severance payments to laid-off workers. Under investigation are members of the regional government, businessmen, union officials and facilitators. The Andalusia government allotted some 721 million euros to the fund between 2001 and 2010.

Sources believe that the number of defendants in the case will rise as the Civil Guard continues its investigation.

But before leaving on vacation, Judge Alaya signed an order naming 23 more suspects in the case, including two sons of the controversial businessman José María Ruiz-Mateos - Pablo and Javier - after authorities discovered alleged violations made at the fund in connection with the Cervantes Hotel, which they owned, Diario de Sevilla reported on Tuesday.

Sources believe that the number of defendants in the case will rise 

Last December, the Civil Guard told the judge about the allegations involving the Ruiz-Mateos brothers, but they were not officially placed under court investigation until last Wednesday when Alaya issued her order.

Other new targets of the sprawling fraud investigation include businessmen who reportedly received commissions for helping the Ruiz-Mateos clan tap into the fund.

The inquiry, which now appears to be moving forward more swiftly, had staggered while Judge Ayala was on sick leave from September to March this year.