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GÜRTEL CORRUPTION TRIAL

Camps admits receiving gifts but claims to have returned them

Long-awaited bribery trial of former Valencian premier begins with defendant accused of accepting 14,000 euros' worth of suits

Former Valencia regional premier Francisco Camps testified in court on Tuesday that his political decisions were never influenced by any gifts he may have received from supporters or constituents.

"There hasn't been a single gift that could have influenced any of my duties as regional premier," insisted the former Popular Party (PP) official. "All of the gifts that I received I have returned."

The 49-year-old Camps took the stand during the first day of testimony in his jury trial at Valencia High Court, where he faces bribery charges in relation to receiving 14,000 euros' worth of tailor-made suits and other dress accessories for contracts that were awarded to a corrupt business network known as the Gürtel ring.

Ricardo Costa, the former PP secretary general in Valencia, is on trial with him.

"I haven't been able to defend myself. Five months ago I had to resign from the office of premier because I had to defend my honor," said an emotional Camps as he raised his tone with the prosecutor, prompting Judge Juan Climent to order him to keep his voice down. Camps, who had been the head of Valencia's government since 2003, stepped down in July, just two months after winning reelection.

"I was the one who set the limits on Christmas gifts, and I established that any gift over a certain price had to be returned," he told the court.

Prosecutor Concepción Sabadell confronted Camps about a time when Gürtel's point man in Valencia, Álvaro Pérez, sent the premier and his family several gifts during one holiday season, including a watch for his wife Isabel Bas, and a bracelet for his daughter.

Camps said he didn't know how the gifts arrived at his house but they were taken to the pharmacy his wife runs so Pérez could pick them up.

Pérez, who is known by his nickname "the mustache" and has been charged in the Gürtel case, is one of the key figures in Camps' prosecution.As president of Orange Market ? a special events company, which won many lucrative contracts from the Valencia government ? Pérez is charged with having given the dress suits and other accessories to the Valencia premier. But while Pérez denies this, prosecutors are relying on the testimony given by tailor José Tomás, who says the premier never paid for his wardrobe.

Camps maintains that he paid for his suits with his own money but told prosecutors he never kept any of the receipts. He described his relationship with Pérez, whom he met in Alicante during a PP event, as being "a cordial one."

"I think I am a very cordial person; people like me," he said, before telling Sabadell: "I think you can also get people to like you, too."

He denied knowing Gürtel mastermind Francisco Correa, or indeed Pablo Crespo, the number two in the corrupt ring. Camps also said that he had not been aware of the name of Pérez's company, Orange Market. "But I did know him. I had my governmental duties but I also concerned myself with the designs of the campaigns. I was always asking questions," said Camps, as the jury took notes on pads that the court had provided them with.

However, the former Valencia chief quickly pointed out that he and Pérez never discussed any contracts or bids that the Valencia government was planning. In fact, Camps added, he wasn't responsible for awarding any contracts on a regional or party level.

While Camps appeared forthcoming with his answers from prosecutors, he became hostile when Socialist lawyer Virgilio Latorre, who represents the public in the complaint filed in the case, began his direct examination.

Latorre asked the defendant if he ever purchased a dress suit in 2005. "I refuse to answer questions from anyone who represents a political party," Camps said. The Valencia Socialist Party (PSPV-PSOE) successfully won an appeal to get the High Court to reopen the case after it was dropped last year. "I didn't come here to play politics," Camps said.

Latorre continued his line of questioning, including asking about the existence of checks from Correa's companies showing that they paid for his suits. Camps remained silent.

Latorre also brought up a trip that Camps reportedly took with Pérez to Houston, Texas, but again the former premier didn't respond.

Yet Camps seemed taken aback when he began to listen to surveillance recordings of conversations between Correa and Pérez. As he listened, Camps began to gesticulate and twirl a pen in his hand. In one of the tapes, Pérez and another Gürtel accomplice discuss ways that they could set up a meeting between Camps and a high-level Obama administration official. Pérez wanted a meeting between the Valencia chief and the US president but discarded the idea after he determined it was impossible.

At times Camps laughed while he listened to the recordings. In another conversation, this time between Camps and Pérez, the former Valencia premier calls the Orange Market chief "my dear friend."

Latorre questioned Camps as to whether his affectionate expressions were meant for Pérez as a person, or because of the events he organized on behalf of the PP. Again, Camps ignored him.

At press time, Camps was being cross-examined by his own defense team. The trial will continue with the testimony of Ricardo Costa on Wednesday.

Who exactly paid for those suits?

A crucial part of Francisco Camps' defense strategy is to demonstrate that the former Valencia regional premier paid for his own dress suits with cash made at a pharmacy owned by his wife.

The defense team, headed by lawyer Javier Boix, will also be trying to chip away at the testimony offered by José Tomás, the tailor who claims that Camps "did not pay one dime" for the suits. Instead, says Tomás, it was the Gürtel's point man in Valencia, Álvaro Pérez.

But anti-corruption prosecutors are ready. They have a battery of evidence, including statements from Isabel Jordán, who managed one of the fictitious companies set up by Gürtel head honcho, Francisco Correa. It was Jordán who first told investigators about a 30,000-euro budget entry for Camps' dress suits. She said that she asked Correa's accountant, Javier Nombela, who admitted that the money was for the Valencia chief's wardrobe.

In January 2009, just several weeks before the first arrests were made in the Gürtel case, including Correa's capture, Pérez told the ringleader in a recorded conversation that he "never gave any suits to that little priest [as the devout Catholic Camps was sometimes referred to]."

"I bought some tailor-made suits that he wore when we had to do a photo session but he gave them back to me," Pérez told Correa.

Nevertheless, when Camps was subpoenaed to testify last year before he was indicted, he never mentioned that Pérez lent him suits. After Judge Flors told him about Pérez's testimony, Camps explained that he told him "about a store in Madrid that had an industrial tailor [...] who charged very good prices.

"One of the times I went to Madrid, I went to the store and that was when I met Mr Tomás."

The store was Milano but Camps said he didn't see anything he liked. In 2006, Tomás called to tell him that he was at another store, Forever Young, and asked him to stop by.

"And you paid for those suits in cash?" asked Flors.

"Yes," replied Camps.

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