Main suspect in Spain graft scandal has passport seized

Mon Feb 25, 2013 5:31pm EST
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By Julien Toyer

MADRID (Reuters) - A former treasurer of Spain's ruling party, at the heart of a corruption scandal that has hurt Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, was ordered to surrender his passport on Monday while judges investigate millions of euros he deposited in Swiss banks.

Luis Barcenas is accused of using his position to take bribes, evade taxes by hiding the proceeds in Switzerland and launder money through shell companies, charges that carry prison sentences of up to six years and fines.

The long-running High Court investigation of Barcenas and a graft case involving the son-in-law of Spain's king have enraged Spaniards at a time when deep recession has pushed unemployment to 26 percent and the government has slashed public spending.

After three hours of questioning Barcenas in a closed-door court hearing, High Court examining judge Pablo Ruz ordered steps be taken to restrict the suspect's movements as there was "a serious risk" he might attempt to flee.

He said he had gathered evidence on the three charges of tax fraud, bribery and money laundering and that his investigation could come to an end soon.

In Spain's legal system, lengthy pre-trial investigations are carried out by examining magistrates such as Ruz. It is not clear when a trial could start.

Ruz banned Barcenas from leaving Spain, seized his passport and ordered him to report to a court twice a month.

Barcenas, 55, an avid mountaineer who once scaled Everest, went skiing in Canada two weeks ago, according to media reports. Some of these reports said the police suspected he also used the ski trip to move funds he holds there.   Continued...

Former People's Party treasurer Luis Barcenas carries documents as he leaves Spain's High Court after testifying before a judge in Madrid, February 25, 2013. REUTERS/Juan Medina