Three leading figures in the Gürtel case, a major political corruption scheme affecting Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP), have been sentenced to 13 years in prison each by the Valencia region’s High Court.
Francisco Correa, considered the mastermind behind the bribes-for-contracts network, and his aides Pablo Crespo and Álvaro Pérez, aka El Bigotes (the Mustache), were found guilty in connection with a section of the Gürtel case known as Fitur, involving embezzlement, influence peddling, bribery of public officials and conspiracy in the Valencia region.
Judges have handed down a total of 11 convictions, according to legal sources familiar with the case. Milagrosa Martínez, a former Valencia government official under then-regional premier Francisco Camps, has been sentenced to nine years, while Rafael Betoret, the former head of the tourism department, received a six-year sentence.
The court reached its decision after examining five years’ worth of organizational activities for the Valencia pavilion at Fitur, Spain’s premier tourism fair, and at other events. The government contracts to organize these events were all awarded to Orange Market, a company that was part of the Gürtel network of businesses that paid officials in return for favors.
The sprawling Gürtel case involves a corrupt business network that operated across six Spanish regions between 1999 and 2005. It was allegedly run by Correa (whose surname loosely translates as belt, or Gürtel in German), a businessman who cultivated relationships with PP officials, offering them gifts in exchange for government contracts in public works and event organization. At the height of his power, Correa went by the nickname of Don Vito, after the character in The Godfather.
With nearly 200 official suspects, it became the largest pre-trial probe in modern Spanish history and was broken up into sections to facilitate the investigation. The main trial began on October 4 at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s high court, with 37 people on the dock.
One of the ramifications of the case involves the possibility of illegal party financing by the PP. Secret accounts kept by former treasurer Luis Bárcenas suggest the existence of a slush fund within the conservative party.
English version by Susana Urra.