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Why is Spain’s PM defending politicians charged with corruption?

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has taken a big political risk by defending two former regional presidents charged in one of the biggest graft cases in Spain's history, claiming they are ‘paying for the sins of others’.

Why is Spain’s Prime Minister defending politicians charged with corruption?
Sánchez has insisted that neither Chaves nor Grñan pocketed "a single euro cent" as part of Andalusia's ERE fraud case. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday publicly defended two former presidents of Andalusia, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, following the confirmation of their convictions as part of the long-running ERE corruption case this week.

READ ALSO: Spain’s top court upholds jail for Socialist leaders charged with corruption in Andalusia

Griñán served as PSOE regional president in Andalusia from 2009 to 2013, and Manuel Chaves from 1990 to 2009.

Why might the Spanish Prime Minister publicly defend two politicians accused of corruption?

Judging by Sánchez’s statements this week, the two former regional bosses are, he says, “paying for the sins of others,” the implication being that Chaves and Griñán are being made scapegoats for more systemic underlying corruption. 

Over 500 people were investigated over the nine-year inquiry, with 19 top PSOE officials included. Sixteen of those had their sentences upheld this week.

Sánchez did, however, refrain from speculating about any “future actions” such as a pardon, as has been suggested in the right-leaning Spanish press, and instead stated that the government would wait for a full verdict in September.

Despite Sanchez’s refusal to speculate on the future, he was surprisingly resolute in his defence of his two former party colleagues. 

Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw as part of the 14th Hispano-Polish Summit, Sánchez was keen to make clear that “neither Chaves nor Griñán have been convicted and not even accused of personal enrichment or illegal financing of the party”.

The Prime Minister added that both former Andalusian Presidents had left their positions “more than five years ago,” and stressed that his own administration “respect the steps that may be taken by the defences and the Government will always act within the framework of the law and collaborate with justice.”

Historically a socialist stronghold of Spain’s PSOE, Andalusia had elected PSOE governments every year since Spain’s transition to democracy until 2018, when the Spanish coservative party, Partido Popular, won La Junta.

They followed this up with a bigger majority in June 2022.

READ ALSO: Spain’s Conservatives thrash Socialists in Andalusia’s regional election

Former Socialist presidents of the Junta de Andalucia Manuel Chaves (4thR) and Jose Antonio Griñán (3rdR) appear before a judge at the Seville courthouse as part of a corruption trial in Sevilla on December 13, 2017. (Photo by Julio Muñoz / POOL / AFP)

Andalusia’s ERE fraud case

The ERE scandal is a long-running, drawn out political scandal revolving around fraud allegedly carried out by members of the regional PSOE government in Andalusia between 2000 and 2009 that amounted to, judges believes, as much as €680 million. 

It was a classic case of political corruption: several PSOE members of the Junta de Andalucía were accused of diverting public money from legal ERE’s (employment regulation records) directly to relatives, friends and political allies of the party.

On Tuesday 26th July, the Spanish Supreme Court confirmed the sentences handed down to Griñán and Chaves in November 2019. 

The court found Griñán guilty of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds and sentenced him to jail for six years. He was also declared ineligible for public office for 15 years.

It found Chaves guilty of maladministration and declared him ineligible for public office for nine years.

READ ALSO: ERE: What you need to know about Spain’s political corruption scandal

Spain’s political world now waits for a final judgement in September, and this, many Spanish political pundits believe, leaves the window open for Sánchez to pardon his party allies.

His statements this week, and ambiguous nature with regards to the future, certainly indicate it is a possibility.

Thin ice for Sánchez?

In Warsaw, Sánchez was keen to reiterate that his government was “clean and relentless” in the face of corruption, but with whispers of potential pardons circulating in the Spanish press, Sánchez must be wary of the possible political own-goal such a move could be perceived as.

After all, Sánchez is only Prime Minister following a vote of no confidence in the PP government of Mariano Rajoy as it became embroiled in its own corruption scandals. 

Defending convicted politicians, regardless of whether or not they are political allies, and whether or not Sánchez believes they are being made scapegoats or not, is a significant political risk, especially with a general election slated for sometime before December 2023.

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Spain’s PM sent booby-trapped letter as more explosives detected

Pedro Sánchez received a booby-trapped letter last week which was "similar" to one which exploded Wednesday at Ukraine's embassy in Madrid, whilst two other explosive packages have been sent to other key locations in Spain.

Spain's PM sent booby-trapped letter as more explosives detected

Security staff carried out a “controlled explosion” of the mailed item, whose “content was similar” to that found in other letters sent to the Ukrainian embassy, an air force base, the defence ministry and a military equipment firm.

The envelope, “containing pyrotechnic material” and addressed to Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, arrived by regular mail on November 24th, the interior ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday the security officer at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid lightly injured his hand while opening a letter bomb addressed to the Ukrainian ambassador, prompting Kyiv to boost security at its embassies worldwide.

Spain’s High Court has opened a probe for a possible case of terrorism.

Later in the evening, a second “suspicious postal shipment” was intercepted at the headquarters of military equipment firm Instalaza in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the interior ministry said.

Experts carried out a controlled explosion of that mailed item as well.

Instalaza makes the grenade launchers that Spain donates to Ukraine.

Earlier Thursday, security forces also detected a “suspect envelope” at an air base in Torrejón de Ardoz outside of Madrid which is regularly used to send weapons donated by Spain to Ukraine.

Police were called to the base “to secure the area and investigators are analysing this envelope” which was addressed to the base’s satellite centre, the interior ministry said.

“Both the characteristics of the envelopes and their content are similar in the four cases,” it said in a statement, adding police had informed the National Court of the four incidents.

A fifth envelope with “explosive” arrived at the defence ministry in Madrid on Thursday morning, a defence ministry source told AFP.

Experts blew up the package at the ministry, the source added.

‘Terrorist methods’

Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, appeared to blame Russia for the letter bomb that arrived at the embassy.

“We are well aware of the terrorist methods of the aggressor country,” he said during an interview late Wednesday with Spanish public television.

“Russia’s methods and attacks require us to be ready for any kind of incident, provocation or attack,” he added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered the strengthening of security at all Ukrainian embassies, the country’s foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday after the letter bomb went off at the embassy in Madrid.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February in what it calls a “special military operation”, which Kyiv and the West describe as an unprovoked land grab.

In addition to sending arms to help Ukraine, Spain is training Ukrainian troops as part of a European Union programme.