“I never made any illegal decisions,” Andalusia ex-premier tells top court

Socialist Manuel Chaves gives testimony at Supreme Court in layoff fund fraud inquiry

Reyes Rincón
Manuel Chaves arrives at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Manuel Chaves arrives at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.Jaime Villanueva

Former Andalusian regional premier Manuel Chaves on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that he wasn’t aware of any corruption scheme occurring during his administration, and that "no illegal decisions were adopted" by his government team.

The Socialist leader, who is under a preliminary investigation by the top court in a public fraud probe, testified that all of the decisions he took as regional leader from 1990 to 2009 were legal and based on studies that supported his actions.

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Justices on the court want to know whether Chaves, who has been placed under scrutiny in the so-called ERE fraud inquiry by a Seville judge, had knowledge about illegal payments that were being made from a public fund used to help local businesses pay severance to laid-off employees.

In her report to the Supreme Court, Judge Mercedes Alaya said not only must the Socialist politician have known that money was being paid out illegally, but that he allowed it to take place for an entire decade.

It is alleged that some members of the Socialist government may have designed the fund scheme, in which as much as €855 million was paid out between 2000 and 2010.

“These allegations are not true,” Chaves told the top court at the beginning of the hearing.

Besides Chaves, Ayala also singled out his successor José Antonio Griñán, another Socialist who headed the regional government between 2009 and 2013 and was the Andalusian treasury chief for five years before that.

Chaves is now a deputy in Congress, while Griñán is a senator. Under Spanish law, the Supreme Court has the sole jurisdiction of investigating these and other officials who enjoy aforado status, which conveys immunity from the lower courts.

The former regional premier claimed to have never received a comptroller’s report questioning the fund

The once powerful regional premier, who governed Andalusia for 19 years, said that despite Ayala’s claims to the contrary, he wasn’t aware how the process of granting severance payments worked. He told presiding justice Alberto Jorge Barreiro that he had around 200 directors general working under him.

Nevertheless, Chaves acknowledged that he was aware of the problems facing many failing businesses in the southern region and suggested that a solution be found to help them. But he only knew in “general terms” about the payments that were being made from the so-called ERE fund.

The former regional premier also said that he never received any comptroller’s reports raising questions about the fund. He said that the comptroller never came out in any of the reports he saw later with fraud findings or irregularities.

“If he didn’t, it is probably because there weren’t any irregularities.”

After the hearing, Chaves reiterated his innocence to journalists and defended his accountability.

“There was never any decision made by my cabinet that was illegal,” he said.

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