Spanish raids disrupt Eta global money network

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The Independent Online

Spanish police rounded up 11 leaders of the separatist Batasuna party yesterday and claimed to have dismantled a multimillion-pound international financial network that funds Eta armed attacks and political operations.

Spanish police rounded up 11 leaders of the separatist Batasuna party yesterday and claimed to have dismantled a multimillion-pound international financial network that funds Eta armed attacks and political operations.

Among those detained in pre-dawn raids throughout the Basque country and neighbouring Navarra was Jon Gorrotxategi, considered the party's treasurer, who is suspected of orchestrating a network of companies said to raise €12m (£7.5m) annually for Eta.

Mariano Rajoy, the Interior Minister, said: "This has been a heavy blow to the economic and financial network of Eta that raises funds for armed attacks, prisoners' welfare groups, radical youth groups and political sympathisers."

He added that about 170 apparently bona fide companies based in tax havenslaundered the proceeds of extortion, known as the "revolutionary tax". Police seized large quantities of documents, including financial accounts. While the operation was in progress, police in the French border town of Hendaye seized a truck containing Batasuna documents taken from San Sebastian with the apparent intention of removing them from Spain.

The police operation follows years of investigation into Eta funding ordered by Judge Baltasar Garzon. Investigators examined a complex network of companies based in Spain, France, Colombia, Cuba, Panama and Cape Verde suspected of channelling money to Eta. Police said the scheme obscured the origin and the destination of funds. Direct links with terrorists, which would allow companies to be shut down, were difficult to prove.

Nationalist "people's taverns" throughout the Basque country were also earmarked by Judge Garzon as important mechanisms for money laundering, and 30 such taverns were searched during the police swoop.

Anyone who stops for a beer in one of the many pubs draped with the scarlet-and-green Basque flag in the old centres of Bilbao or San Sebastian may see Eta's hatchet-and-serpent symbol openly displayed, next to collection boxes for Eta prisoners.

The crackdown is widely seen as a prelude to the outlawing of Batasuna, considered by both the conservative government in Madrid and the opposition socialists to be part of Eta's terrorist apparatus.

Batasuna is seeking to change its name to elude the ban, a practice adopted in the past by pro-Eta organisations decreed illegal. But this is the first time the government has moved so determinedly against a party that contests elections, winning some 10 per cent of Basque votes, and has representatives in town halls throughout the region.

Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister, has won support from the United States and the European Union for stronger measures against Basque terrorism since 11 September.

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