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Gonzalez accused of jail deal

JOSE AMEDO is likely to be out fishing near his home town of Lugo in the Galicia region of north-west Spain today. Tomorrow, the former police deputy superintendent starts work in Madrid as a 'public relations consultant' for a legal firm.

Nothing unusual about that, except that Amedo, 48, is still serving a jail term, facing 102 more years for involvement in a dirty war waged by mercenary killers known as the GAL (Anti-Terrorist Liberation Groups), allegedly financed by Felipe Gonzalez's government, against ETA Basque guerrillas in the early 1980s.

A controversial decision approved by Mr Gonzalez's government last week granted 'third-grade' prison status to Amedo and another former senior police officer, Michel Dominguez. Each was jailed for 108 years in 1991 for organising and paying mercenaries from a secret slush fund. They had spent three years in detention.

The new status means both will have to return to a Madrid jail by midnight tomorrow night, but only for 'bed and breakfast', before leaving again for work. They have to spend the nights of Monday to Thursday in jail, are free the rest of the time and have seven weeks' 'holiday' a year, with no spells in jail at all.

The government decision has outraged much of Spain, particularly the Basque country, brought opposition accusations of a 'veiled pardon to keep their mouths shut' and resuscitated a case once seen as a serious threat to Mr Gonzalez's political survival.

Judicial sources with intricate knowledge of the case say Amedo and Dominguez, at the time senior officers in the Basque region, were working on the orders of a senior Interior Ministry official known to investigators only as 'Mr X'. Friends of the two men say they believe Mr X was acting with the approval of then Interior Minister, Jose Barrionuevo, and Prime Minister Gonzalez himself. The friends say Amedo and Dominguez received pay- offs to keep quiet and 'take the fall', with the promise of swift pardons.

Mr Barrionuevo, now a Socialist MP, has always denied involvement, but blocked the investigation when a magistrate said the GAL had been financed by a secret slush fund drawn from what are officially known as the government's reserved funds. Mr Barrionuevo, citing 'government orders', forbade Interior Ministry staff to give evidence on the funds. 'To provide such information on reserved expenses would generate a precedent of unforeseeable consequences,' he said.

As for Mr Gonzalez, he made one public pronouncement after allegations that he knew of the GAL's activities: 'There is no proof, nor will there ever be.' He has remained silent on the case ever since.

The GAL surfaced in 1983 when ETA (a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Liberty) was causing havoc with bombings and assassinations, mainly aimed at Guardia Civil and military personnel, but often killing innocent civilians. Such was public outrage that the GAL's retaliatory killings gained strong support.

Amedo and Dominguez, according to the evidence, relied mainly on Portuguese mercenaries, who killed 25 people in the French Basque country between 1983 and 1987. Nine of the victims were thought to have had no link with ETA; the mercenaries burst into Basque bars and fired indiscriminately.

At the time, Mr Gonzalez was known to be upset by a lack of French co-operation in flushing out ETA bases on the French side of the border. As it turned out, the GAL's activities forced the French government to become involved, and French police action has led to the capture of ETA leaders.

Amedo's big mistake was to flaunt his new-found wealth by gambling away a fortune in the casino in the Basque city of San Sebastian. Investigators said he spent 27 million pesetas (then worth about pounds 150,000) while his salary was only pounds 13,000 a year.

In an interview in prison last month, in which he implicitly threatened to 'sing' if he was not freed soon, Amedo predicted that 'those really responsible' would end up in jail, 'and I'll bring them sandwiches'.

After Friday's bloody ETA bomb attack that killed a general and two others in Madrid, some Spaniards were heard to say: 'Bring back the GAL. Now that Amedo's out, he can go after them.'

(Photograph omitted)