José Antonio Griñán and Manuel Chaves
Seville judge Mercedes Ayala has taken the first steps towards involving the leaders of former socialist governments at the Junta de Andalucía, with ex-presidents Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán at their helm, in the ongoing ERE scandal.
So far the investigation (into the alleged embezzlement of funds reserved to help struggling firms with redundancy pay-offs) has avoided directly accusing the government leaders, although Judge Mercedes Ayala did express a need to establish how the “top steps of the pyramid” fitted into the equation as long as two years ago.
Now the judge has started her journey to the top in her usual style: causing as much of a stir as possible. Her latest court order was issued at exactly the same time as the new Andalusian president, Susana Díaz, was presiding over the swearing-in of her new regional councillors.
However with these “big fish” Alaya has been unable to accuse anybody directly. She has produced a list of politicians - Griñán, Chaves, plus five former regional councillors (Carmen Martínez Aguayo, Antonio Ávila, Manuel Recio, Francisco Vallejo and José Antonio Viera) - whom she calls potential suspects in the investigation into crimes such as corrupt practice and embezzlement “among others”.
The group cannot yet be named as formal suspects because they are known as ‘aforados’. This means that their position as members of the Seville or Madrid parliaments grants them a certain level of judicial immunity.
They cannot be formally accused by a normal investigating judge, but only by a higher court of law: the Supreme Court in the case of Madrid MPs Chaves and Viera, and the High Court of Andalucía (TSJA) in the case of the members of the Andalusian Parliament.
However rather than simply passing the case onto the higher institutions the judge has used an obscure legal clause to inform the group that their names are involved in the ERE case, and that this involvement has a “certain incriminatory nature”, and to invite them to voluntarily join the list of suspects to defend themselves with their legal representatives.
On Wednesday the new Andalusian president, Susana Díaz, defended her predecessors and advised them to ignore the judge’s order.
“The court order does not accuse anybody, there is nothing to comment on,” said spokesperson Miguel Ángel Díaz, after Wednesday’s first cabinet meeting.
In an interview that morning Susana Díaz defended the “integrity” and “honesty” of her predecessors but avoided giving her opinion on the court order, out of respect for judicial decisions.
Chaves said that while the judge’s order had had no effect whatsoever on the investigation, it had had a “political impact”.
“I’m not going to say that that was Judge Alaya’s intention, but I have my opinion,” said Chaves.
The former president, who handed over the reins of the Junta to Griñán to join Zapatero’s government in Madrid in 2008, said he felt “defenceless” and described this week’s order as “gratuitous and unnecessary”.
The case so far
The ERE case is on its way to becoming the greatest corruption scandal in Andalucía with 116 suspects already formally accused (not counting this week’s seven ‘aforados’) half of whom are still waiting to be questioned. The report has already spread onto 43,000 pages after three years of investigation.
Judge Mercedes Ayala is examining the alleged organised scheme within the Junta de Andalucía to grant subsidies in such a way that benefitted those close to the Junta and the PSOE party. The money allegedly embezzled came from a fund, labelled the ‘reptile fund’ by one of the principal suspects, to help firms in difficulty pay for their EREs (mass redundancy packages).
Many of the suspects higher up the pyramid are accused of turning a blind eye to the scheme that could have cost the Junta 50 million euros.