More than 15 years have passed since the beginning of the investigation of the Astapa case for alleged corruption in the surroundings of the Estepona City Council, where one of the main investigated is the former socialist mayor Antonio Barrientos, and whose prosecution faces the Provincial Court of Malagafor which he has requested a reinforcement of personnel given the size of the cause.

The investigation began in 2006 after denouncing PSOE councilors before the Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) of the National Police Corps in Madrid of the alleged commission of crimes related to corruption in the Estepona Consistory. From then until now, the journey of the legal proceedings have been delayed for 15 years and the former mayor has come to judicially request that the possible and alleged link of former commissioner José Manuel Villarejo be investigated.

The third section of Provincial Court of Malaga now faces the oral hearing after receiving last July “in its entirety the proceedings” to prosecute “the records corresponding to the procedure”, previously instructed by the Investigating Court number 1 of Estepona, according to a ruling to which this newspaper has had access and which has been released this week.

The magnitude of the case has led the court to request a reinforcement of personnel to address the holding of the oral hearing, and prior to “signaling the act of the trial” it requests “the appointment of civil servants, computer technicians and other auxiliary personnel estimated necessary for the processing of the procedure”, as well as the appointment of “two magistrates to act in the Third Section”.

The procedure has “128 main volumes that contain the instruction of the case” with more than 71,000 pages, according to the document, to which are added another “646 volumes made up of documentary pieces”, consisting of “260,472” pages, in addition of “several separate pieces of personal situationpecuniary and civil responsibilities”, as well as “precautionary measures, opening correspondence and bank documentation”, which as a whole makes the case add up to a total of 351,114 pages.

The delay of legal proceedings has been denounced by one of the lawyers defending the case, after last year the instructor opened a Deadline for filing defense briefs of the fifty people under investigation in the Astapa case.

In this way, the Provincial Court of Malaga is preparing to face the prosecution of the case, whose order of opening of the oral trial It was issued by the Court of Instruction number 1 of Estepona in 2018, where the judge declared the Provincial Court of Malaga as the competent body to prosecute the judicial process. That year also dates the prosecutor’s indictmentwhere he requests 10 years and 9 months in prison and 38 disqualification for the former mayor, Antonio Barrientos, accused of alleged continuing crimes of falsehood, fraud, embezzlement, bribery, prevarication and influence peddling.

Also, the document accuses former councilors, businessmen and municipal employees among the fifty people investigated, according to the Efe news agency last year, and the dismissal of 39 is requested. According to the prosecutor’s brief, between 2003 and the first half of 2007, the coalition government formed by PSOE and the Estepona Party (PES) allegedly created “a box B in the City Council to increase public spending, which was unaffordable with the municipal budget resources.”

The prosecutor maintains that the Box B was nourished by economic contributions from promoters and businessmen with real estate interests “which naturally they were not required to bear any payment that it was imposed on them by means of pressure or through practices of misuse of power sponsored by local rulers.”

These contributions translated intodirect donations to the City Councilin sponsorships of sports and cultural activities” or “the assumption as own expenses of the companies of certain debts that the councils or municipal companies maintained with their suppliers” and that the businessmen supposedly accepted so as not to harm business opportunities.

With a view to holding the Astapa case trial, provides for the appearance of “284 witnesses and 48 experts proposed by the parties”, as well as “in the defense briefs of the accused, they raise or announce various preliminary issues”, according to the ruling of the Provincial Court of Malaga in which it requests a reinforcement of the personnel for the prosecution of the case.

In addition, at total of 351,114 pages that covers the judicial procedure, the court adds that they are part of the investigated case “multiple CDs and hard drivescontaining various annexes with intervened documentation provided by the Police or those investigated during the processing” of the same.

In this way, in the personnel application it highlights “the volume and complexity” involved in the prosecution of the Astapa casein which “3 accusations appear” and the number of “accused” amounts to 50, plus “another 27 persons or entities cited by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as responsible subsidiary or responsible for profit.”

The Consequences of late resolution of the case They have been warned for almost a decade, and already in 2014 the delegate of the Malaga Bar Association in Estepona, Pilar Mayor, denounced that the Courts of Estepona were in a “totally unmanageable situation”, as well as recognized that they did not have the capacity to deal with a case of the magnitude of Astapa.

At that time, the lawyer warned that the delay in the investigation could lead to “very serious consequencesespecially when the resolution is handed down, because all lawyers will present a battery of resources that are going to clog up the Court”.

At the same time, the representative of the Malaga Bar Association in Estepona declared in 2014 that “undue delay is clear and palpable” in the caseensuring that “six years in the investigation phase and without finishing, it violates the constitutional guarantees of any accused”, a total of 15 years have passed since the court case began to date.

At that time, he already Superior Court of Justice of Andalusia (TSJA) reiterated in its 2014 annual report that justice has to be swift to be fair and considered “essential” to guarantee more and better tools to the courts that deal with “voluminous and complex” cases such as Astapa, while pointing to the need for special photocopiers to digitize all the documentation.

A year later, in 2015, the Workers Commissions union (CCOO) demanded double the number of officials in the Court of Instruction number 1 of Estepona for avoid the paralysis of the Astapa caserequesting the regional administration to create new places in the first instance and to send reinforcements in the second place, with a procedure that added a hundred people investigated.

In its 2015 annual report, the Andalusian high court alluded to the case of alleged corruption in the Estepona City Council, and blushed at the delay in the Astapa investigation, which had already lasted 8 years. Thus, the document reflected his concern about the possibility of further extensions being granted in the judicial investigation: “Apart from the logical concern, he blushes, because the possibility of extending procedural deadlines for investigation when seven or 8 years have already elapsed.”

In the 2015 annual report, the TSJA alluded to the consequences of a delay of these dimensionsand pointed to “possible prescriptions, infringement of reasonable timeapplication of mitigating factors for undue delays, etc”, and justified the delays in the functioning of the judicial system, declaring that the delay is “the crude reality that shows that we have a weak justice, and therefore, a democracy that is also weak” .

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