ERE INVESTIGATION

Supreme Court to rule on senior politicians in labor fund scandal inquiry

Seville judge hands over part of massive ERE corruption case involving two ex-Andalusia premiers

Former Andalusia regional premiers José Antonio Griñán (left) and Manuel Chaves in 2009.
Former Andalusia regional premiers José Antonio Griñán (left) and Manuel Chaves in 2009.GARCíA CORDERO

The judge overseeing the investigation into the labor fund scandal involving the Andalusian regional government has transferred part of the case to the Supreme Court because seven of the officials under scrutiny enjoy parliamentary immunity that exempts them from being tried in regular courts. Among the seven are two former heads of the Socialist Party-run regional government, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán.

Judge Mercedes Alaya has sent over around 20 of the 80 volumes in the case, which involves 201 official suspects, the largest number in Spanish legal history. The Supreme Court will now decide whether there is any evidence of criminal behavior and whether, in the event there is, it will take over the entire investigation or just part of it.

It has taken three-and-half years to reach this point in an investigation into a regional government fund used to help pay jobless benefits at struggling companies conducting labor adjustment plans (or EREs in Spanish). As much as €140 million may have been misused between 2001 and 2010.

Judge Alaya believes the leadership of the former Andalusia government was directly responsible for setting up the €721 million fund

Alaya believes that the leadership of the former regional government of Andalusia was directly responsible for setting up the €721 million fund, which was then distributed arbitrarily. Alongside Chaves and Griñán, the judge has also targeted the former Andalusian regional government officials José Antonio Viera (now a deputy in Congress), Antonio Ávila, Manuel Recio, Carmen Martínez Aguayo and Francisco Vallejo (all Andalusian regional government deputies) as responsible for designing a structure that would avoid public scrutiny and that allowed money to be transferred quickly and without the involvement of regional government comptrollers and auditors.

The defense says the fund was legal and was approved each year as part of the budget. But Alaya says the regional government’s own comptrollers flagged up possible irregularities.

This long-running investigation looks set to rumble on: the Supreme Court is unlikely to look at the material judge Alaya has sent until September.

Alaya has made it clear from the start of her investigation that the Supreme Court should take over the entire case, citing the central role played by elected officials. Public prosecutors have called on her to break the case up into smaller parts and that the Supreme Court should deal only with those being investigated who enjoy parliamentary immunity. Alaya says that such an approach runs the risk of “contradictory sentences.” She is backed by the Seville provincial court, which ruled last month that dividing the case up could “generate procedural confusion.” At the same time, she has been accused in some sections of the media of being on a personal mission to damage the Socialist Party, and that all her high-profile accusations have coincided with major party events.

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Ayala’s investigation hinges on establishing whether the formulas created for payments (“transfers of financing,” as they were known), which were covered by budgetary rules approved by the Andalusian government, facilitated the lack of supervision of the requested subsidies; and whether or not this constitutes a criminal offense.

Last October, the judge ordered a roundup of presumed recipients of ERE bonuses, arresting, among others, several representatives of the CCOO and UGT labor unions. And at the same time Alaya took a statement from former public works minister Magdalena Álvarez, who was regional head of economy and finance when the administrative procedure that supplied the subsidies was set in motion. Álvarez defended the legality of her conduct, and declared she was unaware of the fraudulent use that the labor department – entrusted with the handling of the ERE funds – made of them.