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Spanish court investigates ‘frivolous’ torture claim against Picardo

Spain’s top criminal court is to investigate claims that members of the far-right political party VOX were subjected to “torture” on the orders of Chief Minister Fabian Picardo after they were arrested for unfurling a Spanish flag in Gibraltar, in a case that was dismissed here yesterday as “frivolous and vexatious”.

A judge at the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid has admitted for process a formal complaint filed by VOX alleging "torture and crimes against moral integrity" for the way two of its members were treated by authorities in Gibraltar.

But Mr Picardo said VOX’s claim was “a clear abuse of process” and “a slur” on the reputation of Gibraltar’s police, prison and courts.

The Chief Minister has instructed lawyers and said he had full confidence in the Spanish courts and legal system.

The judge has requested additional information on the facts of the case and it is not clear at this stage how the court will handle the complaint.

The claim relates to a stunt last summer in which VOX activists unfurled a giant Spanish flag on a slope in the Upper Rock nature reserve.

It is filed in the name Juan Ignacio Mínguez Martínez, 53, of one of the activists who was arrested that day, and a 43-year old lawyer for VOX, Pedro Fernandez Hernandez.

The complaint alleges that both men were unlawfully detained in Gibraltar and denied basic rights for political reasons and “by direct order” of Mr Picardo.

The facts of the case are in stark contrast to what is set out in the VOX claim, however.

Mínguez was one of a group of at least five men who drove to the Upper Rock through the Moorish Castle entrance on June 20 and placed a 15m flag on a fire break clearly visible from town. The flag was removed within 30 minutes, but not before it caused outrage in the community.

Mínguez was arrested and charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, an offence that he later admitted in court. Mínguez, who spent five days on remand, was sentenced to three weeks in jail, suspended for one year.

In interviews with both police and with his lawyer, Mínguez expressed “utmost respect” for Gibraltar, but insisted his actions were motivated by his political views.

“He knew that this would not go down well with the Gibraltarians and respects that Gibraltar and its people are British,” his lawyer, Francis Borastero-Porter, told the court at the time.

The court was also told that Mínguez had thanked the RGP for his “excellent treatment” in custody, something Mínguez himself later repeated in interviews with Spanish media.

During the court proceedings, Fernandez was seen taking photographs in the courtroom, an offence under Gibraltar law.

His phone was confiscated and he was removed from the courtroom and held for several hours. He was released after accepting a police caution for taking the images.

VOX’s claim was admitted for process this week by Spanish magistrate Ismael Moreno Chamarro at the Juzgado Central de Instrucción  No.2 at the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid.

The judge will look into the allegations made by the two men and will request information from various official bodies in Spain, including the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

In Gibraltar, Mr Picardo was made aware of the claim after it was reported widely in the Spanish media yesterday.

“The legal proceedings against me alleging torture, which have been filed in Madrid's Audencia Nacional by activists of Spanish right wing political party Vox are frivolous and vexatious and a clear abuse of process,” Mr Picardo said.

“In addition, these proceedings are a slur on the excellent reputation and work of Her Majesty’s Royal Gibraltar Police, Her Majesty’s Prison Service and the Gibraltar Magistrates' Court and legal system, all of which I have complete confidence in.”

“I fully respect the Spanish Courts and legal system and will therefore not lose a moment's sleep over this case.”

“Lawyers will be instructed to deal with this clear abuse of process.”

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