Spanish judge charges 26 suspects in graft scandal

Spanish judge charges 26 suspects in graft scandal
Tourism Institute Secretary of Cartagena Jesus Galindo (2nd R) leaves the Spanish National Court in Madrid on October 29, 2014, after testifying in a hearing in an alleged corruption scandal involving local government construction contracts.

MADRID - A judge in Spain has charged 26 suspects including governing party politicians and businessmen in a bribery probe that has embarrassed the government, according to written rulings released on Thursday.

It is the latest in a string of high-level corruption scandals to hit the ruling Popular Party (PP) and has piled pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy a year ahead of a general election.

Among those charged is Didier Maurice, chairman in Spain for Cofely, a subsidiary of French energy giant GDF Suez, who is suspected of fraud and bribery, according to a written court ruling on Thursday.

Police arrested dozens of people on Monday over suspected kickbacks for public work contracts worth roughly 250 million euros ($315 million), including alleged deals by Cofely.

On Thursday Judge Eloy Velasco at the National Court in Madrid ordered five suspects to be remanded in custody, set bail for eight others and charged and released one, according to two written rulings seen by AFP.

The judge set bail for Maurice and another Cofely manager at 100,000 euros each and detained a third without bail while the investigation continues.

That brought to 26 the number of people so far placed under judicial investigation after 12 others were charged when the closed-door hearings in the court began on Wednesday.

Rajoy has apologised publicly for the scandal but insists justice will run its course.

In 2013 he apologised and resisted pressure to resign in a separate scandal over alleged secret payments to PP members.

Overall 38 people have been arrested in the latest affair, including Francisco Granados, formerly a senior member of the Madrid PP regional government, and four PP mayors.

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