MADRID, Feb. 17 -- Spain's former secretary of state for security, Rafael Vera, was taken to jail early Friday morning to await trial on charges related to an illegal undercover war against Basque separatists. He became the fifth, and most senior, former Interior Ministry official to be jailed by investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon in the past three months. Garzon had ordered Vera's imprisonment after questioning him late into Thursday night about his relationship with the illegal Anti- Terrorist Liberation Group (GAL). Garzon has accused Vera, who was the second most senior official in the Interior Ministry from 1982 to 1994, of covering up police involvement in the GAL kidnapping of Basque exile Segundo Marey in 1983. Two jailed police officers, Jose Amedo and Michel Dominguez, have claimed Vera paid them $2 million each to keep quiet about the ministry's backing of GAL. GAL is held responsible for the deaths of at least 16 suspected members of armed Basque separatist group ETA and six innocent bystanders in a campaign of shootings and bombings that lasted from 1983 to 1987. Two former Socialist Interior Ministers, Jose Barrionuevo and Jose Luis Corcuera, held a joint press conference Friday to say they believed Vera was innocent. 'This is a man who has served Spain with great courage and at considerable risk to himself,' said Barrionuevo. 'We believe the accusations against him are unjust and false.' Vera, who served under both ministers, was in charge of the police's fight against armed political groups, including ETA.
Corcuera said the number of armed groups operating in Spain had been reduced from six to just one in the 11 years Vera held his job. Garzon was due Friday afternoon to question a former senior Socialist Party official in the Basque Country, Ricardo Damboranea, over his alleged role in GAL. The High Court was Monday due to decide whether Garzon could widen his inquiry, currently restricted to the Marey kidnapping, by reopening an earlier GAL case. The reopening of that case would allow Garzon to determine whether the Interior Ministry funded GAL directly, El Pais newspaper reported Friday. Attorney General Carlos Granados Wednesday said his office supported Garzon's petition to reopen the earlier case. Amedo and Dominguez were given 108 year prison sentences for their role as GAL recruiters and paymasters in 1991. They have repeatedly claimed that Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez's Socialist government promised them a pardon soon after they were jailed. At the end of last year, when the pardon still had not come, they decided to break their silence over GAL and talk to Garzon. Their evidence, repeated in a series of interviews with El Mundo newspaper, pointed the finger at senior Interior Ministry officials. It led Garzon to jail former Director of State Security Julian Sancristobal and two police officers in December pending trial for their alleged role in the Marey kidnapping. Garzon claimed the three men had 'founded the Anti-Terrorist Liberation Group either on their own initiative or under orders from their superiors.' Gonzalez, who has been prime minister since 1982, has declared his governments had nothing to do with GAL. The Spanish parliament unanimously approved rigorous new controls of secret state funds Thursday. Ministers who control such funds will have to make twice-yearly appearances before a special parliamentary commission to explain how they have been used. ETA is held responsible for the deaths of some 760 people in its 25- year fight for a separate state made up of four northern Spanish provinces and three southwestern French departments.