News that the president of the Junta de Andalucia, Jose Griñan, has stepped down has a Shakespearean inevitability about it.

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Haunted by allegations that he was a major player in one of the biggest corruption scandals in Spain’s history – known as the EREs – Griñan’s fall has all the hallmarks of a tragedy penned by the Bard himself.

The timing of Griñan’s announcement was ominous. It happened exactly one day before a Junta employment inspector was due to give highly-damaging evidence against him before the judge.

One of a number of high-profile corruption cases currently doing the rounds in the country, the ERE saga hasn’t received quite as many column inches in the press as the Bárcenas or Urdangarin debacles, probably because it’s perceived as a regional problem.

But the scandal is huge even by Spain’s eye-popping standards.

The case revolves around fake early retirement schemes paid out to relatives, close friends and sundry acquaintances of Junta officials over many years, amounting to a cool 140 million euros, give or take the odd million. No fewer than 20 high-ranking officials have so far been impeached.

While Griñan and his predecessor Manuel Chaves swear blind that only a few scoundrels dipped into the EU-subsidised honey pot, the former Junta inspector – who has also been charged with embezzlement – blew the lid open a month ago by claiming that the payments had in fact been planned and authorised from the top.

More damning still is his claim that he alerted Griñan about the scandal on 15 separate occasions but was ignored, adding that it was “unthinkable” that Griñan would have not known about it.

Something else he said stood out, though, when he remarked that Griñan “showed a total indifference” to the reports.

Many now think that Griñan’s exit is simply a curtain raiser to being impeached.

Known for his confident demeanour, Griñan is more a grey technocrat than inspiring rhetorician. Having worked his way up the Junta’s ranks over three decades, he is very much the product of the all-conquering Socialist PSOE party in Andalucía, where it has governed unopposed for 30 years.

That sort of dominance tends to mark a man; embolden him, and with Griñan it was no different.

For a long time he appeared invincible. He was bold enough at an ERE parliamentary commission last year to challenge his inquisitors to make the accusations outside the legal safety of the investigation. No-one did.

His urbane sophistication was in stark contrast to the often crass and unrefined ways of Andalusian politicians. By contrast, Griñan’s haughty manner left you in no doubt that he was a man utterly secure about his place in politics – even if it irked you.

But Griñan now strikes a wounded figure, railing bitterly against those who criticise him. He has insisted throughout that he knew nothing about the reports, but as the Junta’s economics and finance minister during the key years in question (2007-2009) that claim is looking increasingly shaky.

For such a self-assured man, Griñan has not been very successful in politics. Personally appointed by Chaves, he suffered a narrow defeat during his first – and as it turns out, last – regional elections in March 2012. Despite losing, he resumed power after cobbling together an alliance with the former communist party, the IU.

His fleeting appearances in Almería were often preceded by a major disaster, such as last year’s floods, or when Mojacar and Turre were hit by the devastating wild fires in 2009.

I remember trying to interview Griñan a couple of years ago at Almería airport when he flew over from Seville to inaugurate a new route. A trail of bodyguards, dignitaries and just about every remunerated official who could fit in the airplane trailed in his wake, forming a comforting circle around him.

I was keen to ask him a few questions about a highly talked about issue at the time – the Junta’s property decree – and to let him know the effect of knocking down the home of a retired British couple under the glare of the world’s media.

I was quickly rebuffed by his press officer and told that the president of the Junta would not be available for an on-the-spot interview, thank you very much. After insisting that I’d try anyway, she scurried off to consult her bosses and within the space of a minute was told Sr Griñan would grace me with his presence – as long as I kept the questions brief.

The president did not depart from his carefully-worded script about illegal properties (‘everyone has to abide by the law’…’the judge ordered the demolition because the home was illegal’ and so on). He appeared utterly unmoved, impassive and – that phrase again – totally indifferent to the problem affecting Brits in the area.

The last act has yet to be played out, but that could take a long time in coming. Judicial investigations in Spain are like Test Cricket – they drag on for ages and when it’s all over you wonder what the fuss was all about.

Who would bet against a tedious re-run of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ then?  Not Sr Griñan, I suspect.

Richard Torné

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