Police launched raids across Andalusia on Tuesday morning arresting dozens of people – including politicians, public workers and businessmen – in connection with a fraud scheme that involved phony training courses paid for by the regional government.
Among those detained by the Economic and Fiscal Crimes Unit (UDEF) are the former Socialist mayor in Jerez de la Frontera, Pilar Sánchez, and a councilor from her same party in Roquetas de Mar.
Investigators are targeting schools that offered the courses, where as many as a thousand people may have benefited from the alleged scheme
The arrests in this third phase of Operation Edu were carried out in Almería, Cádiz and Málaga provinces. UDEF sources said that 70 to 90 arrest warrants had been issued and will be executed in the coming days.
Investigators are targeting schools that offered the courses, where as many as a thousand people may have benefited from the alleged scheme, which was in place between 2007 and 2013
The focus of the investigation is more than €3 billion that the Andalusian government allotted for vocation training programs over a seven-year-period, according to official sources. UDEF believes that between €20 million and €40 million may have been illegally handed out to people and businesses for classes that never were held.
Investigators have taken statements from 300 people, most of whose names show up on lists at the Andalusian Employment Service (SAE). In all, around a thousand individuals and firms who benefited from the money handed out by the regional government are under investigation.
“There are companies that are nothing but cover-ups, created for the express purpose to defraud the government,” said one top police official.
UDEF agents believe that those who qualified received 75 percent of the grant money from the government, but didn’t collect the remaining 25 percent because they didn’t meet all of the conditions of the agreement.
The Socialists decried the operation as being spearheaded by the Popular Party (PP) as a campaign ploy
Operation Edu first broke last April when UDEF went public with a complaint filed by Social Security officials over subsidies handed out in 2010 by the Andalusia government for its Professional Occupational Training (FPO) program.
A second phase broke right before the European Parliamentary elections in May, when allegations surfaced that tens of millions of euros had been embezzled through the phony-training programs. The Andalusian regional government, governed by the Socialist Party, decried the operation as being spearheaded by the Popular Party (PP) as a campaign ploy.
This third phase and the arrests come just five weeks before March 22 regional elections in Andalusia.