MADRID (AP) — Spanish police arrested eight people in raids in Catalonia on Wednesday as part of a corruption and fraud investigation involving the northeastern region's acting ruling party.
A civil guard spokesman said the treasurer of the Convergence party, Andreu Viloca, as well as the head of the region's public works department and six business directors were arrested Wednesday. He said 23 offices, including Convergence's headquarters, were raided. He spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with police regulations.
The investigation, which has been going on for several years, follows allegations by prosecutors that the party charged businesses commission in exchange for public works projects.
Convergence is at the center of the region's push for independence from Spain.
The arrests came as Convergence party leader and acting regional government President Artur Mas signed an act permitting the formation on Oct. 26 of a new regional parliament following elections last month.
"They won't find anything because there is nothing illegal in those projects," Mas said of the raids. He said both he and his party were the "targets of a hunt" that was not unrelated to the political situation in Catalonia.
Mas is under investigation for possible grave disobedience for his role in staging a symbolic referendum on secession from Spain last year after the Constitutional Court suspended it.
He is currently in negotiations to form a new regional government after the "Together for Yes" pro-independence alliance he headed won 62 seats in the 135-member regional parliament, falling short of a majority. Mas has promised to set Catalonia on a path toward independence by 2017 if he gets backing from the parliament.
Polls show Catalans overwhelmingly support the right for a secession referendum but are evenly divided over independence.