There is abundant evidence to show that some of the funds assigned by the Andalusian regional government to finance severance pay in mass layoffs — known in Spanish as EREs — was redirected into the pockets of business figures, middlemen and consultants. It is essential that the money trail be followed, as the judge investigating the case is already doing, so as to track down all of those who have profited illicitly. It also has to be determined whether, as the examining judge, Mercedes Alaya, is assuming, the design of the administrative procedures set up for the payment of ERE subsidies deliberately facilitated the fraudulent use of public money, either by action or omission.
It is inconceivable that more than 100 million euros — out of the 721 million used to finance the EREs — could be syphoned off without a high-ranking official noticing the difference. But the question that must first be answered is whether the formulas created for payments (“transfers of financing,” as they were known), and which were covered by budgetary rules approved by the Andalusian government, facilitated the lack of supervision of the requested subsidies; and whether or not this constitutes a criminal offense.
On Tuesday the judge brought both lines of investigation together. On the one hand she ordered a roundup of presumed recipients of ERE bonuses, arresting, among others, several representatives of the CCOO and UGT labor unions, on whose conduct a shadow now falls. And at the same time Alaya took a statement from Magdalena Álvarez, who was regional head of economy and finance when the administrative procedure that supplied the subsidies was set in motion. Álvarez defended the legality of her conduct, and declared she was unaware of the fraudulent use that the labor department — entrusted with the handling of the ERE funds — made of them.
In the investigation of the political side of the case, there has been little progress. Judge Alaya believes that the procedure by which the subsidies were paid out was illegal from the start, and that the Andalusian regional budget was altered to give coverage to these payments for as long as a decade. The regional government has always maintained that the procedure was legal, under the budgetary laws that were passed by the Andalusian parliament.
Alaya has also pointed the finger at the former Socialist regional premiers Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, who come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by virtue of their national parliamentary immunity. But she did so in a writ that was criticized by the prosecutor’s office on the grounds of its doubtful legality. The judge must get to the bottom of the case, but with the legal rigor that will be necessary if a case of corruption in a regional government department is not to become a general indictment aimed at a political party. Her handling of the case has already involved disturbing elements, such as when two of the three crimes ascribed to seven businessmen — including two brothers of the current national labor minister, Fátima Báñez — were left unaddressed until they expired under the statute of limitations. What’s more, a year has gone by since dozens of people were formally targeted as suspects in the case, and yet they have still not been summoned to testify.