A new police operation against political corruption in Spain swooped into action on Tuesday, with arrests of 30 people in 13 provinces. Politicians, public employees and technicians were among those detained in the regions of Andalusia, Canary Islands, Extremadura and Madrid.
The target is an alleged “criminal scheme” dedicated to rigging public contracts covering park and garden maintenance. According to investigators, the main companies involved – Fitonovo and Fiverde – had created a network of corrupt public employees and civil servants who would ensure the firms won contracts in exchange for kickbacks.
The operation is taking place in the provinces of Seville, Cordoba, Jaén, Huelva, Cádiz, Granada, Badajoz, Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Lanzarote and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The raid marks the third phase of what had until now been known as Operation Madeja (meaning skein of yarn), but has now been redubbed Operation Enredadera (meaning vine), given its close relation to gardening services.
A network of corrupt public employees and civil servants ensured firms won contracts in exchange for kickbacks
The investigating magistrate in charge of the operation is Judge Mercedes Alaya, who is also at the head of a probe into an alleged scam in the Andalusia region involving the embezzlement of public funds destined to facilitate troubled companies with severance pay for workers. A number of current and former officials from the Andalusia regional government have been implicated in the scam, in which €140 million may have been misused between 2001 and 2010.
The arrests on Tuesday include: Cristóbal Pérez, second deputy mayor of the city of La Carolina in Jaén; Miguel Ángel de la Cruz, an infrastructure technician from the Jaén provincial government; two Public Works Ministry technicians from Huelva; and Carlos Podio, head of the Territorial Cohesion department in Seville.
Judge Alaya has also summonsed to appear in court Fitonovo businessmen José Antonio González Baró and Rafael González Palomo, as well as the administrator of Fiverde, Ángel Manuel Macedo. The Seville public prosecutor is requesting that the three post civil responsibility bonds totaling €3.5 million.
Operation Enredadera branched out from an investigation into the Mercasevilla food market in Seville
The official suspects in the case will be facing charges of offenses against the public administrations, money laundering, price fixing in a public tender, commercial document fraud, public tax offenses and criminal organization.
Operation Enredadera branched out from the Mercasevilla case, which was an investigation into corruption regarding the public bids for a project involving a food market in Seville. The case was sparked by an investigation into the suspiciously large earnings of the former head of the Public Byways department, Domingo Enrique Castaño. Investigations revealed that part of his personal funds had come from Fitonovo.
Further investigations took place in the second half of 2013, and saw the Civil Guard search and detain the heads of Fitonovo for the first time. Documents seized by the authorities revealed that an infrastructure had been created that facilitated a kickbacks-for-contracts system, via a network of corrupt public employees and civil servants.
This new case comes on the back of a number of high profile corruption investigations in Spain in the last month. In October a major raid was launched on a similar bid-rigging scheme that involved former high-ranking member of the Madrid regional government, Francisco Granados. He was arrested along with another 30 or so councilors, civil servants and constructors. Also last month a number of former bank executives, board members, labor unionists and politicians were revealed to have spent millions of undeclared funds on personal expenses using so-called “black credit cards” from failed savings bank Caja Madrid.