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CORRUPTION

A ‘Who’s Who’ of this week’s anti-corruption sweep in Valencia

The undercover inquiry has ensnared prominent PP leaders from the last two decades

A suspect arrested in Operation Taula on Tuesday arrives at the courthouse.
A suspect arrested in Operation Taula on Tuesday arrives at the courthouse.

The Civil Guard’s anti-corruption operation in Valencia this week, which has so far produced 24 arrests, was one of the biggest sweeps that has been launched against public officials in recent years.

Judicial authorities overseeing Operation Taula, which broke on Tuesday, have placed an additional five people under official investigation.

The suspects, who all have ties to the Popular Party (PP), are under investigation for charging commissions in exchange for public contracts and may have been involved in illegal party financing, sources said.

Officials targeted local governments in the provinces of Valencia, Alicante and Castellón as well as the Diputación de Valencia – the provincial authority.

Sources said that former Valencia Mayor Rita Barberá and her former deputy economy chief, Gerardo Camps, are also under investigation.

But as current lawmakers, they are both are protected by immunity, which can only be lifted by the Supreme Court if a Valencia judge outlines their motives as to why they should be prosecuted.

Here’s a list of the main suspects in Operation Taula:

Rita Barberá

Rita Barberá.
Rita Barberá.

Rita Barberá served as mayor of Valencia from 1991 to 2015. Since September, she has been a senator for the Valencia region. Barberá has not been arrested or placed under official investigation. In various surveillance recordings turned over by a former top official, Marcos Benavent, suspected co-conspirators refer to “the lady boss” as someone having knowledge of the alleged kickback schemes taking place. Authorities believe the conversations point to Barberá, who has denied taking part in any illegal activities. Hours after the arrests and searches were made, PP officials in Valencia assured the media that the former mayor was “calm at home.”

Gerardo Camps

Gerardo Camps
Gerardo Camps

Valencia’s former deputy regional premier Gerardo Camps is now a lawmaker in Congress who enjoys immunity from prosecution. Only the Supreme Court can strip him of this privilege if it decides he should face trial. Camps was also Valencia’s economic chief from 2003 to 2011, under the past PP administration of regional premier Francisco Camps. He has a close relationship with two suspects arrested Tuesday: former Valencia city councilor María José Alcón and Vicente Burgos, former director of Fundació Jaume II El Just. The former deputy regional chief said he was served no papers in Operation Taula. “PP colleagues who are corrupt are not true colleagues,” he said following the arrests.

Alfonso Rus

Alfonso Rus.
Alfonso Rus.

Alfonso Rus served as provincial chief from 2007 to 2015 and was mayor of Xàtiva from 1995 to 2015. He was also head of the PP in Valencia province from 2004 to 2015. Authorities consider Rus one of the masterminds of the alleged kickbacks scheme, and  conducted extensive searches of his home and businesses throughout the day on Tuesday. Last May, he was suspended from the PP after recordings implicated him in acts of corruption – a charge he has always denied. In one of the recordings, he can be heard counting the money given to him from a commission.

Alfonso Novo

Alfonso Novo.
Alfonso Novo.

Alfonso Novo became Barberá’s accidental successor at City Hall after she failed to muster enough support to form a government following the regional and municipal elections of May 2015. Novo was the city planning chief before that and, up until Tuesday, president of the local PP chapter. After he became an official target in Operation Taula, Novo said he was innocent and had no plans to give up party membership. Valencia PP officials have said, however, that anyone arrested or placed under investigation will be removed from their posts and suspended from the party.

Máximo Caturla

Máximo Caturla.
Máximo Caturla.

Máximo Caturla was deputy chief of the Valencia province, regional education secretary, and CEO of the public corporation Construcciones e Infraestructuras Educativas Sociedad Anónima (Ciegsa), which specializes in building school infrastructure. On Tuesday, the Civil Guard searched the headquarters of Ciegsa, which, according to the current government, ran up billions of euros in cost overruns last year. Caturla can also be heard in Benavent’s secret recordings, allegedly talking about illegal commissions.

David Serra

David Serra.
David Serra.

David Serra served as regional education secretary, deputy in the regional parliament, and deputy secretary for the PP’s organization committee in Valencia. Just like Gerardo Camps, Serra was part of Francisco Camps’ inner circle. Serra is currently facing charges for illegal financing of the PP’s Valencia chapter in the massive Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case, which is expected to go to trial this year.

María José Alcón

María José Alcón.
María José Alcón.

In one of the conversations secretly recorded by Benavent, the former Valencia councilor complains that, because of taxes a private contractor had to pay, her share of the kickback was low. “There is only 2% – € 9,000. That’s only enough to buy a couple of gifts and organize four parties,” admits Benavent in the recording. Alcón is married to Alfonso Grau, a former deputy mayor of Valencia who is a defendant in the ongoing Noos trial, which has also ensnared a member of the Spanish royal family, King Felipe’s sister Cristina. In the last elections, Barberá included her in one of the last positions on the party’s slate, but Alcón renounced her candidacy when the recordings were made public. After testifying before a judge on Tuesday, she was released on €150,000 bail.

Luis Salom

Luis Salom.
Luis Salom.

Luis Salom, a city advisor, is one of the most active Twitter users in the Valencia PP. He was a scourge of corruption suspects from other parties, and also lashed out against various left-wing politicians and journalists. Salom registered the names Guanyem Barcelona and Guanyem València at the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office, and later demanded money for a charity in exchange for giving up his rights to those same names, which were being sought by leftist political groups.

English version by Martin Delfín.