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Europe

Justice minister quits over graft probe handling

Latest update : 2009-02-23

Spanish Justice Minister Mariano Fernandez Bermejo announced his resignation on Monday following criticism over a hunting trip with a high-profile judge handling a corruption probe involving the conservative opposition party.

AFP - Spain's justice minister, under fire over his handling of a corruption probe involving businessmen with ties to the conservative opposition party, resigned on Monday.
  
The government said it had accepted the resignation of Mariano Fernandez Bermejo and announced his replacement as Francisco Caamano, currently secretary of state for relations with parliament, to replace Bermejo.
  
Bermejo has been the target of fierce criticism from the conservative opposition Popular Party for having gone on a hunting trip with high-profile judge Baltasar Garzon amid a corruption scandal involving businessmen with ties to the PP.
  
PP leader Mariano Rajoy has accused Bermejo and Garzon, who is in charge of the case, of leaking information to the press in a bid to influence regional elections scheduled for March 1 in the Basque Country and the Galicia region.
  
Bermejo had reacted at the time by accusing the PP of issuing "smokescreens" and of "attacking institutions in order to cover up" internal problems.
  
He told a news conference Monday he was resigning as he "can no longer tolerate the use that is being made of this hunting trip."
  
Following the announcement, PP spokesman Federico Trillo called on Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero "to explain the relations between his government and the judicial authorities."
  
As part of the probe, Garzon announced last week he had uncovered a system of bribes used to secure contracts from civil servants and public authorities.
  
Garzon has so far charged 37 people in the case since the first arrests were made on February 6.
  
One of them is Francisco Correa, an entrepreneur who has organised PP events and who media reports say is behind murky building permits and other lucrative contracts awarded by PP municipal councils in Madrid, Valencia and elsewhere.
  
Bermejo, who was appointed two years ago, has also been attacked over his handling of backlogs in the judicial system that led to an unprecedented strike last week by hundreds of judges seeking more resources.
  
The minister at the time had condemned the attitude of a "minority" of judges in staging the walkout.
  
Trillo charged Bermejo "has shown the maximum incompetence and the maximum inefficiency" on the issue.
  
"Bermejo has not taken a single decision since his arrival to put an end to the growing and unbearable judicial delays that the Spanish people are suffering," said Trillo.
  

Date created : 2009-02-23

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