Spain in crisis after former Civil Guard chief flees

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The Independent Online
THE disappearance of Spain's former Civil Guard chief, Luis Roldan, suspected of becoming a multi-millionaire from bribes and taxpayers' money, has thrust Spain into its worst political crisis since the abortive coup attempt in 1981.

The Interior Minister, Antonio Asuncion, resigned on Saturday, taking responsibility for not preventing Mr Roldan fleeing justice. But both the left- and right-wing opposition insisted the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, should step down. 'We are facing a national emergency,' said the independent Diario 16 in an editorial.

Mr Gonzalez asked Mr Asuncion to stay at his post while the search for Mr Roldan continued but was expected to accept his resignation unless the missing man was found.

Adding to the pressure on Mr Gonzalez was a widely held suspicion that the government had cut a deal with Mr Roldan, allowing him to flee prosecution in return for his silence. In a thinly veiled threat to a parliamentary commission investigating him, Mr Roldan said he had 'plenty of garbage at home', implying he could reveal corruption by others.

Denying any deal, Mr Asuncion said: 'If Mr Roldan knows anything, let him talk. He will have plenty of time to talk in jail.' Government sources said they believed Mr Roldan was likely to have fled to Portugal, Panama or Venezuela. But there were reported sightings in the north-western region of Galicia and at Almeria on the Costa del Sol.

Less than a year after Mr Gonzalez was elected to a fourth four-year term, many politicians, including Jordi Pujol, Catalan leader and power-broker in the national parliament, raised the spectre of snap elections.

The parliamentary commission investigating Mr Roldan's rapidly gained wealth - estimated at upwards of pounds 2.5m from a salary of around pounds 36,000 a year - had found there was enough evidence to open a public prosecution against him. A business associate described to the commission how he had picked up suitcases full of cash from Mr Roldan's Civil Guard office, amounting to more than pounds 300,000, to deposit in a company run by the two men.

The parliamentary investigators believe the cash came partly from commissions paid by construction companies for work with inflated prices, or from the so-called 'reserved funds', state money meant to be used for counter-espionage. How the Civil Guard boss could have withdrawn so much of the funds without the knowledge of Interior Ministry officials, or even Mr Gonzalez himself, remains a key unanswered question.

Mr Roldan had been due to appear before a Madrid prosecutor on Friday to hand in his passport but failed to show up. His wife did, saying her husband was depressed, almost suicidal and was under medical treatment at a secret location. She provided no doctor's report and Mr Roldan, last seen on 22 April, may well have long since fled the country.

Mr Asuncion, in office only since November, when the former interior minister, Jose-Luis Corcuera, resigned after a policy rebuff, had assured reporters last week that Mr Roldan was in Galicia.

Coming on the heels of the country's Bank of Spain scandal, in which the former Central Bank governor, Mariano Rubio, faces a jail term for alleged unethical and probably illegal enrichment, Mr Roldan's disappearance has Mr Gonzalez firmly on the ropes.