Gürtel ringleaders want Judge Garzón barred for 17 years

Suspects complained at allegedly illegal phone-tapping during corruption probe

JULIO M. LÁZARO Madrid 15 ENE 2012 - 18:59 CET

The reputed leaders of the Gürtel corrupt business network have asked the Supreme Court to keep suspended High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón off the bench for as much as 17 years for illegally taping their jailhouse phone conversations with their defense team.

The petition was signed by alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa, his number two Pablo Crespo and lawyer Ignacio Peláez, who represents co-defendant José Luis Ulibarri. Garzón arrested Correa, Crespo and other defendants in February 2009 after a widespread inquiry purportedly found that they and their associates had been profiting from local Popular Party (PP) governments in Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia through kickbacks-for-tenders schemes. Investigators say that the Gürtel ring paid some seven million euros in bribes to PP officials.

Garzón - who will have to appear before the Supreme Court on January 24 to answer another complaint filed against him for allegedly overstepping his authority by opening an inquiry into Franco-era crimes - has said that he had authorities tape the phone conversations to stop any attempts by suspects to hide the money and engage in a cover-up. In 2010, investigators found some 21 million euros stashed away in Swiss accounts.

Correa remains in Madrid's Soto del Real jail in lieu of 15 million euro bail as he awaits trial. Crespo was released last year on 600,000 euros bail.

The phone conversations were thrown out of the Gürtel inquiry.

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