Rajoy faces escalation of Spanish graft crisis

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

The politician at the centre of the corruption scandal engulfing Spain's ruling Partido Popular (PP) testified before a prosecutor yesterday, as the government of Mariano Rajoy faced an escalating crisis over allegations of illegal payments.

Luis Bárcenas, a former PP treasurer, was called to give a statement regarding his knowledge of a party slush fund, allegedly in existence between 1990 and 2008.

El País newspaper has published the contents of what it says are notebooks belonging to Mr Bárcenas detailing apparently unlawful payments to senior PP officials, including the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

The notebooks also appeared to show massive donations to the fund by property magnates and others in the private sector.

Mr Rajoy and Mr Bárcenas have denied the accusations. However, on his arrival at the anti-corruption prosecutor's office, members of the public barracked the former treasurer, calling him a "thief" and demanding he "give back the money".

The scandal started to unfold in mid-January when it was revealed that Mr Bárcenas had held a Swiss bank account containing up to €22 million.

Also called to testify yesterday was Jorge Trías, a former PP deputy who broke party ranks last month by writing a newspaper article in which he confirmed that a culture of under-the-table payments had existed in the party.

The anti-corruption office is leading the inquiry into the case and the editor of El País has handed over to it the documents on which the newspaper based the accusations.

The justice system in Spain is notoriously slow and it is not clear when, or even if, the case will be resolved. But the pressure is mounting on Mr Rajoy.

The opposition Socialists have called on him to resign and protesters have been surrounding the PP headquarters each day to voice their anger.

The prime minister read a statement on Saturday insisting there had been no wrongdoing.

But this week the scandal has shown signs of spilling over and exacerbating Spain's deep economic woes. The head of the CEOE business association, Juan Rosell, said the affair had been "disastrous" for Spain's image.