Gürtel ringleaders refuse to give evidence before the High Court

Investigation into kickbacks-for-contracts case about to end after more than five years

Alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa arrives at the Madrid court on Thursday.
Alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa arrives at the Madrid court on Thursday.ULY MARTÍN (EL PAÍS)

The alleged leaders of the Gürtel ring, Francisco Correa and Álvaro Pérez (aka El Bigotes), on Thursday refused to testify before High Court Judge Pablo Ruz ahead of the examining magistrate’s plans to bring the years-long investigation to an end.

Correa, who has already spent three-and-a-half years in preventive custody, cited a “loss of trust in the court” as justification for his refusal to testify, legal sources said.

The ringleader of the network, Correa – whose surname translates to “Gürtel” in German – is alleged to have cultivated personal relationships with Popular Party (PP) officials and offered them gifts in exchange for hefty contracts for his companies. The ongoing investigation into the corruption scheme has already affected dozens of PP officials at the local, regional and national levels.

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Many of the worst abuses took place in Madrid and the Valencian region, according to the investigation. Documents seized from a suspect show that the ring handled as much as 25 million euros.

On Thursday, Correa said the case should have been dismissed after the original investigating judge, Baltasar Garzón, was suspended for 11 years for ordering wiretaps of Correa and other suspects’ conversations with their lawyers in prison.

Álvaro Pérez also invoked his right not to give evidence, with his lawyer claiming that he had heard about his court date through the press, and had not received official notification. Investigators suspect that he collaborated in illegal payments to former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, former Pozuelo mayor Jesús Sepúlveda and former PP congressman Jesús Merino.

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