Gurtel: The case that brought down a top judge

9th February 2012, Comments 0 comments

The "Gurtel" case that brought down top Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon is a political corruption scandal involving power barons of the ruling conservative Popular Party.

Garzon ordered the arrest of a key suspect in the case, businessman Francisco Correa, and around two dozen others in 2009.

They were accused of paying about 7.0 million euros ($9 million) in kickbacks in exchange for contracts with Popular Party governments in Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia.

Correa is accused of bribing officials and politicians with cash, luxury cars, designer clothing, expensive watches and Caribbean holidays.

"Gurtel" is a play on words with the name of the suspect Correa, which translates as "belt" in English or "gurtel" in German.

Garzon was convicted of abuse of power for ordering police wiretaps of suspects who were in jail and under investigation in the case.

The wiretaps allowed the authorities to listen in on their conversations with defense attorneys and others.

The lawyers later filed a lawsuit, arguing that the wiretaps violated their constitutional right of attorney-client privilege.

The wiretaps -- which were backed by state prosecutors -- continued after Garzon passed the case in March 2009 to Madrid's High Court.

Swiss investigators have uncovered some 24 million euros in bank accounts linked to Correa.

He used a number of shell companies with names such as Special Events, Easy Concept and Orange Market to carry out his activities.

Last year a court set bail for Correa at 15 million euros, reportedly one of the highest figures in Spanish history.

His legal team appealed the bail sum and Correa remained in prison until he paid a reduced sum at the beginning of this year.

A case involving the Valencian branch of the Gurtel network went to court last month.

It resulted in the acquittal of the former head of the government of the eastern region of Valencia, Francisco Camps, and his former deputy, Ricardo Costa, who faced corruption charges.

The two men were accused of accepting bribes in the form of designer suits in exchange for contracts. The jury decided by a margin of five votes to four that the charges could not be proven.

Camps, who was re-elected with a strong majority as head of the Valencia regional government in local elections in May, stepped down in July to fight the corruption allegations.

Garzon, the judge who led the investigation into the "Gurtel" scandal, is thus the only person so far to be convicted in relation to it.

© 2012 AFP

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