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After five years, judge wraps up portion of huge Gürtel corruption investigation

Pablo Ruz closes part of bribes-for-contracts probe to speed up proceedings and try 45 suspects

Judge Pablo Ruz has been handling the Gürtel investigation.
Judge Pablo Ruz has been handling the Gürtel investigation.

Five years after it began, an investigation into the largest political corruption scheme in recent Spanish history is over — or at least it is for 45 of the nearly 200 official suspects in the Gürtel case.

High Court judge Pablo Ruz on Tuesday concluded the portion of the pre-trial probe that affects some of its most relevant suspects, including alleged ringleader Francisco Correa, former Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas and several ex-mayors.

The massive bribes-for-contracts scheme extended to six regional governments, all ruled by the PP, and operated between 1999 and 2009. Its mastermind,  businessman Correa (whose surname means “belt,” as does “Gürtel” in German) cultivated personal relationships with PP officials to secure government contracts for his companies prior payment of commissions.

The investigation also uncovered evidence of illegal party financing and cash-filled envelopes that were handed out to top PP leaders as undeclared bonuses.

The judge who began the probe at the central criminal court, Baltasar Garzón, was subsequently barred from the bench for ordering wiretaps of the conversations between suspects held in custody and their lawyers. Many international observers viewed the case against Garzón as politically motivated.

Now, his successor Pablo Ruz has ended a portion of the investigation covering the 1999-2005 period in order to speed up the proceedings and put 45 people on trial.

These include three former PP treasurers: Luis Bárcenas, Álvaro Lapuerta and Ángel Sanchís; four ex-mayors: Guillermo Ortega, Alberto López Viejo, Jesús Sepúlveda and Ricardo Galeote; and three allleged ringleaders: Francisco Correa, Pablo Crespo and Álvaro Pérez.