Valencian premier to stand trial for accepting suits as gifts

After two-year investigation Francisco Camps will appear in court

MARÍA FABRA / IGNACIO ZAFRA Castellón / Valencia 15 JUL 2011 - 20:43 CET

The Valencian premier, Francisco Camps, will stand trial. After a two-year investigation and preliminary hearings, a court has decided that there is enough evidence to try Camps over "la causa de los trajes," roughly translated as "SuitGate." Camps, who is also head of the regional branch of the Popular Party (PP), is accused of accepting expensive articles of clothing worth over 14,000 euros from a corrupt business network that operated nationwide and bribed numerous PP officials in exchange for government contracts.

If Camps ? who was re-elected for office in May despite the shadow of corruption charges ? does not step down before, he will be the second regional premier in Spanish history to stand trial after Cantabria leader Juan Hormaechea in 1994. This setback for Camps comes after the Valencian High Court initially closed the case for lack of evidence. The Supreme Court later decided to reopen it.

The case is back at the regional court, where Judge José Flors estimates that there is enough evidence to prosecute Camps (and three other Valencian PP leaders) based on reports by the tax offices and witnesses such as the Madrid tailor who made the clothes, and who claims that the premier never paid for them. There are also handwritten documents and emails discussing gifts for Camps, which were sent by members of the corrupt business network, known as Gürtel.

The indictment states that the goal of the ring was "to win, through gifts, the affection or favor of the people being presented with the same."

According to the anticorruption attorney's office, between late 2005 and 2008 Camps accepted 12 tailored suits, four jackets, five pairs of shoes and four ties worth over 14,000 euros.

The attorney considers that Camps accepted bribes and calls on him to pay a fine of 41,250 euros. The judge has tacked on an additional third of that amount for a total bond of 55,000 euros.

The trial is likely to be held in the fall, and the Socialist Party is already asking PP national leader Mariano Rajoy whether he plans to let Camps keep his post despite the recent developments.

"An accused man has the right to defend himself, but from a political point of view it is untenable," said Antonio Hernando, head of regional policies for the Socialist Party, about the possibility of Camps holding on to office. "It must be Rajoy who assesses whether or not this is harming the interests of Valencians."

Camps had always denied having accepted the clothing as gifts. But earlier this week, following the testimony of an employee at the tailors who said he doctored company accounts to delete Camps' name, the premier's defense changed tack and suddenly said that Camps did indeed accept the gifts, but only in his capacity as head of the regional PP, not as regional premier.

Judge Flors, however, said that the positions are indivisible and that "when the same person simultaneously holds two positions of public relevance, it is not possible to argue that the gifts he receives from parties with economic interests in the party ? and especially in the regional government run by that party ? can only influence one aspect of his life."

The attorney's office said Camps will benefit from the lack of retroactive effect of criminal laws. In 2010, after the alleged crimes, which took place between 2005 and 2008, the Socialists and PP agreed on a harsher penal code that now sanctions the same behavior with up to a year in prison and three years barred from holding public office.

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