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OPERATION PÚNICA

Judge seeks to link ex-Madrid premiers with Púnica graft ring

Court orders raids of two biggest-spending departments in Aguirre and González’s governments

Ignacio González and Esperanza Aguirre at a PP committee in March of last year.
Ignacio González and Esperanza Aguirre at a PP committee in March of last year.

A High Court judge investigating the Púnica bid-rigging scheme affecting the Popular Party is zeroing in on former Madrid regional leaders Esperanza Aguirre and Ignacio González.

The ring was broken up in late October 2014 with the arrest of dozens of people in several provinces. Púnica leaders are believed to have unlawfully awarded as much as €250 million in public contracts in exchange for bribes from the corrupt bidders.

By July 2015, 92 people were under official investigation over Púnica

The activities under investigation took place while Aguirre and González were at the helm of the regional government. The man considered the mastermind behind Púnica, Francisco Granados, was once a top aide to Aguirre.

While Aguirre is not formally a suspect in the case, on Sunday she announced her surprise decision to resign as head of the Madrid branch of the Popular Party (PP), citing the raft of corruption cases affecting the conservative party.

Now, High Court judge Eloy Velasco has ordered new searches at the headquarters of Canal de Isabel II, the public corporation in charge of Madrid’s water supply, and also at the Madrid  transportation department. Both government agencies have been particularly active investors over the last few years.

On Monday, Velasco seized 31 contracts signed between 2004 and 2013 by the transportation department and construction giant OHL – whose CEO, Javier López Madrid, is under official investigation in the Púnica case.

Aguirre has declined to make any statements to EL PAÍS regarding this latest move by the High Court, while González could not be reached for comment.

Francisco Granados with Esperanza Aguirre when both were working together.
Francisco Granados with Esperanza Aguirre when both were working together.

Aguirre was the regional premier between 2003 and September 2012, when she took a step back from the political frontline because of illness. Her successor González held the job until June 2015.

Francisco Granados, once the regional  transportation chief and secretary general of the PP’s Madrid branch, has been in prison for 14 months, as he is considered a flight risk. He and his childhood friend David Marjaliza, a builder, were found to hold Swiss bank accounts containing a joint €5.8 million.

Exactly one year ago, Judge Velasco ordered the first raid of the water utility’s headquarters. Ignacio González was president of Canal de Isabel II for nine years.

The investigating judge suspects that some of the contracts under scrutiny may also have served to illegally finance the PP’s Madrid branch and to fund some of Aguirre’s campaign runs.

That is why the Civil Guard showed up at the Madrid PP’s headquarters last Thursday in search of incriminating evidence of irregular activities.

By July 2015, 92 people were under official investigation over Púnica, which affects the regions of Madrid, Valencia, Murcia and Castilla-León as well as a dozen municipal governments.

English version by Susana Urra.