By Alyssa McMurtry
Spanish police Tuesday arrested 24 people, including prominent politicians, all under suspicion of being part of a network that charged illegal commissions for granting public contracts in the eastern region of Valencia.
Alfonso Rus, the former president of the Valencian Popular Party (PP), was arrested along with other former mayors and high profile members of the Valencia’s PP, according to a statement by the Spanish judiciary.
This corruption scandal is the latest of many to rock Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative party, which lost its majority government in the December general election. The seats were lost to the newly formed Podemos and Ciudadanos parties, which railed against what they deemed to be rampant corruption in Spain, presenting themselves as the only clean options.
The court is investigating various crimes including breech of public duties, embezzlement of public funds, influence peddling, bribery and money laundering.
As part of Tuesday’s operation, the police simultaneously searched 33 different locations, including a PP office, a soccer team’s headquarters, as well as homes and businesses.
The investigation began after a complaint issued by a regional left-wing party in July 2014 pointed out irregular dealings between Rus and a public corporation called Imelsa, which was directed by Marcos Benavent.
Benavent, who is also implicated in the case, admitted he had been wrong and asked for forgiveness in a May 2015 court appearance. He also claimed to have been secretly recording conversations for years, including one in which Rus is heard literally counting the money from a bribe.
Although 24 were arrested on Tuesday, 29 are officially being investigated.
The regional PP has temporarily suspended anyone under investigation from membership to the party. Rajoy or the national PP have yet to comment.
Prior to May 2015 elections, the PP governed in the coastal region of Valencia for two decades.
Another detainee, Maximo Caturla, a former politician and the top official at another public corporation which built schools around Valencia. Valencia’s new government has recently revealed that these constructions have gone over budget by more than 125 million euros ($136 million).
Valencia, while one of Spain’s wealthier regions, is also the country’s most indebted region.
This month, a major corruption trial kicked off in Valencia related to the Formula One European Grand Prix events, which Valencia hosted from 2008 to 2012. This probe looked into how politicians allegedly made it appear that a private company organized the events and built the Valencia Street Circuit - now abandoned - when in fact, public capital funded the project