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CORRUPTION

Spain shelves probe into €7-billion Saudi rail project contract

Spanish prosecutors have dropped a probe into suspicions Spanish firms paid kickbacks to secure a contract to build a high-speed rail link in Saudi Arabia, a ruling made public Thursday showed.

Spain shelves probe into €7-billion Saudi rail project contract
The investigation centred on $100 million Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah deposited into a Swiss bank account in 2008, to which Juan Carlos had access. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

In 2011, Saudi Arabia awarded the contract worth €6.8 billion($7.2 billion) to a consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms to build the railway linking Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

Spanish prosecutors opened an investigation into the deal after a former mistress of Spain’s former king Juan Carlos was heard in a telephone conversation discussing commissions which were allegedly paid to secure the contract.

Anti-corruption prosecutors decided to shelve the probe “as it was not possible to determine the possible commission of the criminal offence”, according to the ruling dated May 4th.

The information which was gathered is “clearly insufficient”, and was “in part contradictory”, it added.

Juan Carlos was the target of a separate probe over the high-speed railway contract.

The investigation centred on $100 million Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah deposited into a Swiss bank account in 2008, to which Juan Carlos had access.

A unit of the highspeed train built by Spanish manufacturer Talgo is loaded onto a freighter in Barcelona’s port in 2014. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO / AFP)

Prosecutors dropped the probe in March, saying the could not establish “any link” between the receipt of the money and the awarding of the contract.

Swiss prosecutors had also opened a probe into the same issue in 2018 but dropped the case in December for lack of evidence.

Saudi Arabia opened the 444-kilometre (275-mile) railway to the public in October 2018. It has improved transport connections between Mecca and Medina during the annual haj pilgrimage.

Spanish construction and engineering firm OHL, train maker Talgo and state track operator Adif were among the firms which made part of the consortium that built the railway.

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SPANISH POLITICS

Catalonia’s separatist parliament speaker suspended over corruption charges

The speaker of Catalonia’s parliament was suspended Thursday, two days after a court in the northeastern region of Spain ordered the hardline separatist to stand trial for misdirection of public funds.

Catalonia's separatist parliament speaker suspended over corruption charges

The decision by the assembly’s governing table to temporarily suspend Laura Borràs as both speaker and a lawmaker in the Catalan parliament has fuelled tensions in coalition which governs the region.

It was backed by all the parties with representation on the table, except for her “Together for Catalonia” (JxC) party.

Borràs is accused of awarding contracts worth around €300,000 ($295,000) to a colleague when she headed the Catalan Institute of Letters, a regional body charged with promoting Catalan language and literature.

A top court in Catalonia on Tuesday ordered her to stand trial for malfeasance and forgery.

Public prosecutors are calling for her to be sentenced to six years in jail and to be banned from holding public office for 21 years.

Borràs denies the allegations, arguing they are part of the “judicial persecution” of Catalan separatists.

After she was suspended she repeated these arguments — and lashed out at the other separatist parties which voted in favour of it.

“My suspension only benefits those who have bet on a dirty war, but it also makes complicit those who executed it,” she said.

Borràs belongs to the same party as former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid to avoid arrest

Her JxC governs Catalonia in a coalition led by the more moderate ERC party which backed her suspension, as did another smaller separatist formation, the CUP.

She has been speaker of the Catalan parliament since March 2021.

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