José Antonio Griñán, the former Socialist regional premier of Andalusia, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that he has no responsibility in the ERE fund case, which involves the alleged misallocation of millions of euros of public money meant to help struggling companies in the southern region.
Griñán, who headed the regional government between 2009 and 2013 and was the Andalusian treasury chief for five years before that, spent four hours answering questions about a system that is alleged to have awarded millions of euros to businesses and individuals who had no right to the aid.
Griñán and Chaves are being questioned by the Supreme Court because they enjoy immunity from the lower courts
On April 14 his predecessor and fellow Socialist, Manuel Chaves, is scheduled to appear before a judge to answer similar questions. The Supreme Court is investigating the “direct or indirect” role the two former Andalusian leaders may have played in the design of the ERE fund scheme, which doled out as much as €855 million between 2000 and 2010.
Neither one has been formally charged with any specific crimes, and both volunteered to testify.
Speaking to reporters after his court testimony, Griñán denied allegations that the Andalusian government deliberately set up a system to divert the public funds meant for businesses contemplating job cuts through labor adjustment plans, known as EREs in Spanish.
“There was no grand plan, but there was a great fraud,” said Griñán, adding that “some controls may have failed.”
Griñán also expressed “satisfaction” at having been able to defend himself before a judge five years after the probe began, but lamented that “the damage has already been done.”
“This has been a bad situation for me and my family; it’s been a torment,” he told reporters.
The former premier resigned suddenly in August 2013, just a year-and-a-half into his second term in office, fueling speculation that his move might be related to the ERE investigation, led by Seville judge Mercedes Alaya.
Alaya has argued that the Andalusian government created an illegal system to hand over the subsidies. Approved by the regional parliament year after year as part of the annual budget, the system enabled the fraudulent scheme to avoid internal audit office spending controls, she believes.
Judge Alaya also feels that Griñán, who had power over the Andalusian budget for years, had some responsibility to bear in the case, and should have been aware that there was a large hole in the region’s employment accounts.
Griñán, now a senator, claims he never received the reports issued by the regional comptroller or a warning about a deficit at the Instituto de Fomento Andaluz (IFA), the agency that awarded the funds to qualifying applicants.
Griñán and Chaves are being questioned by the Supreme Court, rather than the Seville court in charge of the inquiry, because they enjoy aforado status, which grants politicians immunity from the lower courts.
A total of five aforados are due to appear before the Supreme Court in connection with the ERE case.