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Spanish minister dismisses chief of Civil Guard top crime-busting unit

Manuel Sánchez Corbí had informed his team at UCO that there was no more money to fund action against organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking

Colonel Manuel Sánchez Corbí.
Colonel Manuel Sánchez Corbí.

Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, on Thursday cited “a loss of trust” as the reason for dismissing the head of the Civil Guard’s Central Operations Unit (UCO), which investigates the most serious cases of corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime.

The government considers that Colonel Manuel Sánchez Corbí halted work on ongoing investigations “without obtaining authorization from his superiors or from judicial authorities,” said Interior Ministry sources.

The dismissal was originally proposed by the director general of the Civil Guard, Félix Azón, and ratified by the State Secretary for Security, Ana Botella. Authorities claim that Colonel Sánchez Corbí may have endangered ongoing operations. The ministry has yet to decide on a replacement for the key position within the Civil Guard.

The internal memo was leaked to the press on July 27

The decision was made public a few days after Colonel Sánchez Corbí sent UCO members an e-mail dated July 25 informing them that their share of a special discretionary fund used by UCO and other investigative units within the Civil Guard and National Police, as well as the intelligence services (known as “fondos reservados” or reserved funds) was depleted. These special funds are earmarked for national security operations such as fighting terrorism, corruption and organized crime, and they lack the oversight of other budget allocations.

“All our activities requiring the use of this fund are hereby suspended until further notice,” said the message. Sources at the Interior Ministry said they were unaware that investigative activities at UCO had been suspended.

The internal memo notifying about the lack of funds was leaked to the press on July 27, the same day that the government failed to secure congressional support for part of its blueprint for the 2019 budget.

That same day, the Civil Guard union AUGC said it was surprised by the announcement and said that the lack of funds would affect other investigative departments within the Civil Guard, not just the UCO. The union called on the government to “rectify” the situation and asked the Interior Ministry for explanations regarding “a surprise announcement that will have serious consequences for ongoing Civil Guard investigations.”

A career in counter-terrorism

Sánchez Corbí was at the helm of UCO for over two years after serving in the unit for four years. His main area of expertise is in counter-terrorism, a field that he worked in for 25 years. However, he became a household name during the search for missing teen Diana Quer. At a packed media conference, he announced the arrest of Quer’s murderer, José Enrique Abuín.

In 1997 Sánchez Corbí was convicted to four years in prison for the 1992 torture of ETA member Kepa Urra. The Supreme Court later reduced this to a one-year term, but maintained the original ruling’s six-year disqualification, which would have meant being discharged from the Civil Guard. The government of José María Aznar commuted it to a one-month disqualification.

English version by Susana Urra.

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