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POLITICAL CORRUPTION

Supreme Court to investigate former PP mayor of Valencia for money laundering

Rita Barberá moves closer to being officially named as a suspect in illegal financing case

Rita Barbera Ampliar foto
Former Valencia mayor Rita Barberá. Archivo

Spain’s Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it was to investigate Rita Barberá for money laundering offenses allegedly committed during her 24 years as the Popular Party’s (PP) mayor of Valencia. The top tribunal will be looking into her supposed role as part of an illegal financing network that is thought to have operated out of Valencia City Hall, and that has already seen most of Barberá’s team accused of corruption.

The Supreme Court’s decision is in response to a request filed in July by its public prosecutors to investigate Barberá, who is now a PP senator. If the probe turns up evidence of wrongdoing, she now faces the likelihood of being officially named as a suspect in the ongoing illegal financing case.

This latest turn of events will weaken acting PM Mariano Rajoy as he attempts to garner support to form a PP-led government

In April, a lower court judge had requested an investigation, but Barberá’s position as a senator, which grants her legal immunity from the lower courts, means the case can only be investigated by the Supreme Court.

The probe relates to so-called Operation Taula, which saw 24 people arrested in January and is targeting local government officials in the provinces of Valencia, Alicante and Castellón, as well as the Valencia provincial authority. All the detainees have ties to the Popular Party (PP), which governed the Mediterranean region for two decades until May 2015, when local and regional elections resulted in a political shift to the left. Barberá ran Valencia City Hall between 1991 and 2015.

Barberá’s name comes up in several surveillance recordings, in which she is referred to as “the lady boss”

More than 50 people are now under investigation as part of Operation Taula. The judge overseeing the case is investigating donations of €1,000 from elected PP officials and party advisors, including Barberá, supposedly used to launder money of allegedly illegal origin that funded election campaigns in 2015, 2011 and 2003. In exchange for their donations, the officials were allegedly given two €500 banknotes in return.

One of the suspects, according to sources familiar with the investigation, is Alfonso Rus, a former provincial chief and ex-mayor of the Valencia town of Xàtiva. Another is María José Alcón, who used to work as an advisor to Barberá. Alcón is married to Alfonso Grau, a former deputy mayor of Valencia who is a defendant in the ongoing Noos corruption trial, which has also ensnared a member of the Spanish royal family, King Felipe’s sister Cristina.

Barberá’s name comes up in several surveillance recordings turned over by a former top PP official referred to by co-conspirators as “the lady boss.”

This latest turn of events will weaken acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he attempts to garner support to form a PP-led  government and avoid a third general election in a year, following two inconclusive polls that have left Spain rudderless for almost nine months.

Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez has cited the many corruption cases involving the PP as one of the reasons he won’t be supporting Rajoy.

Similarly, an anti-corruption pact with emerging center-right party Ciudadanos requires the PP to expel anybody accused of corruption from the group.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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