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Court Rejects Motion to End Cooking Oil Trial

March 31, 1987

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Angry women jeered 38 defendants entering court today for their trial on charges of selling tainted cooking oil that prosecutors say killed 584 people six years ago.

On the second day of the trial today, the court rejected a defense motion to dismiss charges against the defendants of homicide, fraud and crimes against the public health. The lawyers claimed the state cannot guarantee a fair trial.

The defense lawyers said the actions of victims and relatives of the dead outside the courtroom and attempted attacks on the defendants on opening day Monday made a fair trial impossible.

Presiding Judge Jose Antonio Jimenez-Alfaro rejected the defense motion.

When the defendants left the courtroom Monday, a crowd standing outside hurled stones and insults at them. All the accused are out on bail.

At the end of today’s session, the defendants, covering their faces with newspapers, jackets or, in one case, a fake beard, were escorted by police to waiting vans. No stones were thrown today.

Fernando Bengoechea, the second defendant to testify, refused today to answer questions from Prosecutor Eduardo Fungairino, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Bengoechea and his brother, Juan Miguel, are charged with knowingly importing adulterated rapeseed oil from France by the tankerload for sale to middlemen for human consumption.

Juan Miguel Bengoechea on Monday gave the government lawyer vague replies and would not answer questions from private lawyers representing victims or their families.

The oil was sold in 5-liter (1.3-gallon) jugs by vendors in working class towns and neighborhoods around Madrid in May and June 1981. The first death reported was that of an 8-year-old boy May 6, 1981. Prosecutors say 584 people eventually died and 24,992 became ill after consuming the oil.

The state is seeking more than 100,000 years in prison for the eight main defendants, including the Bengoechea brothers. Under Spanish law, however, the maximum sentence anyone convicted of a crime can receive is 30 years in prison.

The defense is expected to argue that there is no proof of the relationship between the cooking oil and the deaths and injuries.

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